By now, you’ve probably heard that Joss Whedon dropped a delicious surprise onto the internet, making “In Your Eyes,” his latest film with director Brin Hill, available for rental on Vimeo. And ’round these parts, we wasted no time dropping our $5 on this movie in which Zoe Kazan and Michael Stahl-David star as two unsuspecting 20-somethings who find themselves connected via a cross-country telepathic chatline, because of course we did.
The verdict: there are no vampire slayers or “Avengers” members in “In Your Eyes,” but this movie definitely hails from the Whedon-verse, with plenty of the writer’s signature flair stamped all over it. Here are the most Whedon-y moments, beginning with:
1. Tropes Gone Wild
Whedon loves to play around with classic movie cliches, so that whatever you’re watching feels simultaneously familiar and fresh — as in refreshing, but also as in cheeky, since nothing breathes new life into a plot device quite like a movie that employs it while also making fun of it.
And before it does anything else, “In Your Eyes” definitely has its own laughs at the ridiculous concept of falling in love via supernatural wormhole. Most notably: Dylan’s panic over Rebecca being in the future, when she’s actually just in a different time zone, which feels very much like a winky dig at the super-serious romantic flop, “The Lake House.”
2. Whip-Smart Dialogue
Whedon’s ear for articulate banter is unparalleled, but even we didn’t realize how unparalleled until we saw it happening between two people, in two different places, connected only by their own personal psychic hotline.
Because unfortunately for Rebecca and Dylan, they can see through each other’s eyes but can’t communicate without speaking out loud.
The characters have so much fun with Whedon’s script, and they’re so totally engaging in their cross-country psychic chats, that what should be the most unbelievable part of the film — namely that Rebecca, the wife of a respected doctor in small-town New Hampshire would blithely wander through the grocery store looking like she’s balls-out talking to herself — goes off without a hitch.
3. The Cowboy Hero
It wouldn’t be Whedon without the wild west making an appearance. In this case, we get our cowboy in the form of Dylan! Who not only sports an earthy sensibility and a charming drawl, but also appears on screen for 15 glorious seconds wearing a real, actual bolo tie.
4. The Villain with a Clipboard
From the suits-on-screens in “The Avengers,” to the nebbishy underground drones of “Cabin in the Woods,” Whedon’s bad guys tend to be acting not out of evil self-interest, but in service of an institutional authority. In this case, it’s Rebecca’s arrogant physician husband, Phil, who presents himself early on as a bad dude in a white coat.
5. Complex Lady Characters
Even as a romance with an incredibly limited cast — a factor of the depressive Rebecca’s and downtrodden Dylan’s isolated lives — this movie actually passes the Bechdel test. And even better, it gives us a memorable, flawed, strong, vulnerable, complex female lead in Rebecca. She’s so human. It’s so good!
6. A Blazing Finish
No spoilers, but let’s put it this way: when my internet tanked and had to be rebooted five minutes from the end of “In Your Eyes,” I was so distraught that I nearly tore a couch in half with my bare hands.
“In Your Eyes” is available online now.