Lazy Eye ***
Starring: Lucas Near-Verbrugghe, Aaron Costa Ganis, Michaela Watkins
Director: Tim Kirkman
Sometimes, the strangest of encounters can change your life. And sometimes, those encounters can change it in the strangest of ways. In Lazy Eye, a small-scale American indie drama that owes much to the Linklater Before Trilogy, an encounter between ex-lovers gives way to something much more profound than it at first appears.
Dean (Near-Verbrugghe) has received an email from Alex (Ganis), an ex-partner from whom he has seen nor heard anything for fifteen years. Remembering both the good times and the heartbreak, he invites him to spend a few days at his remote dessert cabin, in an attempt to reconnect and maybe rekindle their romance. Upon arrival, everything seems to be going to plan, but as the two realise how much has changed in both of their lives over the years, the direction of their time together begins to shift, with both carrying much more baggage than they ever had before.
Lazy Eye is named after Dean's trip to the optician in the film's opening sequence, in which he is told that his lazy eye is becoming more pronounced now that he's reached middle age. This confrontation with his age and mortality is probably what drives him to reconnect with Alex, but instead of being able to return to his younger self, Dean is unable to leave behind his emotional baggage, or the ways in which his past have changed him. He wants to see his youth with a rosy hue, but instead is forced to face harsh reality instead. In flashbacks, we are see the pair's previous relationship, and these are markedly dreamlike in their nostalgia. Unfortunately, these moments are the most ill-advised of the film, because despite their best efforts, neither actor is able to pull off playing fifteen years younger, regardless of how much Vaseline is smeared all over the lens. Or how many filters they used. Or how much they positioned the lights to half obscure their heads. As a result, this fragments seem like silly padding that fail to enrich or even complement the narrative.
As with many introspective films, we are presented with an everyman who is supposed to be likable for his normalcy. Unfortunately, Lazy Eye suffers from Woody Allen Syndrome, in which the protagonist's flaw - in this case his dishonesty - is so dislikeable that it only serves to distract from any redeeming features. In the latter part of the film, it seems a big mystery as to why Alex returns or continues to stay in the cabin. Seemingly the two have forged a connection, but why is another question entirely. It becomes increasingly clear that Alex is getting nothing whatsoever from this rendezvous, so why does he allow it to continue?
The film takes place over just a few days. We see a glimpse into Dean's life elsewhere, which serves to contextualise what is seemingly a moment of mid-life crisis. Before Sunset also sees two ex-lovers meeting once again in an ostensibly a similar brief encounter, albeit unplanned. Filled with yearning, sadness and bemoaning missed opportunity, that film piled weight onto the significance of moments like these, which have the potential to change whole lives. Unfortunately, Lazy Eye is unable to live up to this benchmark, leaving behind a warm afterglow, but doing little to make you care for this relationship, neither past, present nor future. Where Before Sunset gives you the warmth of both hope and nostalgia, Lazy Eye gives you the coldness of naval-gazing millennials, with no real romance whatsoever.
It's become the trend nowadays to foresake the old "Happily Ever After" adage. Love is often portrayed as just part of someone's wider life - that an affair or relationship forms only a fragment of someone's romantic history; that love often has a sell-by date. Obviously there is much truth in this, but without that promise - or hope - of a happy resolution, it's difficult to see what filmmakers are sometimes driving towards. Lazy Eye is less about romance and more about self-healing. As a result, the film feels like an elaborate therapy session, where its protagonist is hell-bent on "finding himself", even if he doesn't know that "himself" is what he is looking for. But isn't that what every indie film seems to be saying now? That finding yourself is more important than finding love... which makes every romance movie really about romance with oneself... Forgive me, but is it just me, or does that not seem somewhat conceited? Or is this just the millennial way?