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Review: Another Earth, starring Brit Marling & William Mapother (Fantasia 2011)

Another Earth, starring Brit Marling & William Mapother (Fantasia 2011)
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PLOT: A young woman who made a tragic error in judgment must confront the man whose life she ruined, while humanity discovers that another planet shockingly similar to our own exists – and is getting closer.

REVIEW: Anyone who enjoys high-grade schmaltz and/or is willing to shove their cynicism aside for 90 minutes will find ANOTHER EARTH to be a deeply involving, transporting experience. The film doesn't make it easy; it's melodramatic, sometimes pretentious, frequently ridiculous. But it's also a moving sci-fi fantasy, albeit one firmly rooted in this troubled thing we call reality. Either you'll be swept up in it or you'll disregard it as a corny mixture of “Twilight Zone” and soap opera.

The film opens with a couple of startling events: The first is that astronomers have discovered a small planet lurking behind the sun; one suddenly visible to us. Hearing this news stuns Rhoda (Brit Marling), a recent high school graduate on her way to the prestigious MIT astrophysics program. After a night of partying and drinking, Rhoda unwisely gets behind the wheel; while searching the skies for signs of the new planet, she crashes into another car, killing two of the passengers – a mother and son – while leaving the father in a coma.

Four years later, Rhoda is released from prison. Her dreams obviously dashed, and her guilt over the accident hanging over her like a cloud, she takes up a job working as a janitor at her former high school. Forced to live with her family, Rhoda's intends to apologize to the surviving victim of her tragic mistake, an ex-college professor named John Burroughs (William Mapother) who now practically lives as a hermit in his dilapidated house. But after botching her one chance to come clean with the man, Rhoda impulsively pretends to be a house-cleaner, gaining access to the man's sad home, and eventually, his life...

Meanwhile, the second planet, dubbed Earth 2 because of its striking similarity to our own planet, has moved much closer to us – so much so that its oceans and land masses are plainly visible. An effort is underway by the government to reach out to the looming planet, and leading to a “first contact” of the most extraordinary kind.

To reveal more of either plot would be unfair, as ANOTHER EARTH is about discovery, in every sense of the word. Director Mike Cahill and co-writer/star Brit Marling craft a story that's reminiscent of Richard Matheson's more sentimental work, where the characters and their relationships are at the forefront, and the sci-fi element is in the background. (Another comparison might be Robert Zemeckis' CONTACT.) It's about how people already struggling to make sense of this life now have to consider something even larger and surreal.

ANOTHER EARTH is by no means perfect; it sometimes goes overboard in stylistic touches (too many slow-mo shots of Rhoda walking down the street, contemplating life, threaten to remind you of an overly artsy student film), and the progression of the relationship between Rhoda and John – who naturally comes out of his shell of depression – can be considered fairly predictable. But it's a story well-told, all in all; an earnest, touching tale of love and redemption, even while also being a fascinating fantasy about the strange possibilities the universe may present to us.

RATING: 8 out of 10

Extra Tidbit: ANOTHER EARTH will be released in limited theaters on JULY 20th.

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