While many directors, especially those within the “independent” world, can be described as prolific, few are as prolific and as ever changing as director Joe Swanberg. Coming hot off the heels of his star-studded festival darling Drinking Buddies the mumblecore patriarch returns with what may be arguably his smallest film in years, a deeply powerful and bewilderingly quiet character study known as All The Light In The Sky.
Jane Adams stars here as an aging actress named Marie, a woman dealing not only with her ever increasing age but a world where that increasing number slowly changes things in her life ranging from the possibility of dating to the availability of acting gigs. When her niece joins her for a weekend, she comes face to face with these ideas and ultimately these deeply rooted fears that are creeping up on her almost as fast as the years behind her.
One of Swanberg’s most mature and pensive pictures in ages, this is also one of his most visually striking. Also credited as the film’s cinematographer, the film feels a lively and vital aesthetically as it so breathlessly does intellectually. The film’s editor as well, Swanberg’s stamp is all over this film, a remarkably quiet film aesthetically, finding the closest comparison in the form of something like Swanberg’s Uncle Kent. Set for the majority either inside of Marie’s home or the beach that it is set upon, the film is visually quite beautiful, and while Swanberg’s camera never seems to find the need to get some legs and begin moving, he sets his sights on emotions and themes that are as alive and engrossing as any bombastic camera move or special effect could ever be.
Easily one of Swanberg’s smallest films, it’s also one of his most intellectually alluring. Shocking in the ease with which he and co-writer Adams have with mining deeply resonant themes such as relationships, marriage, family and a still-young century that sees aging as a social death sentence, Adams and Swanberg pen a screenplay that is both smart, and yet disturbingly tender. Never one to turn these themes into oppressive ideas, as many modern independent dramas do, Swanberg’s film is deliciously thoughtful and full of as many laughs as it is gasp-inducing, “real,” moments of introspection. Admittedly carrying a seemingly light tonal air about itself, All The Light In The Sky is an insightful motion picture about aging in this century, but seen through an aesthetic lens that is as of this era as the themes it attempts to discuss. Deeply intimate and brazenly low budget, the film instead simply lets the performances breath, the intimacy almost becoming claustrophobic, ultimately turning this film into a nearly definitive meditation on some major themes facing this generation in such a way aesthetically as to itself become a calling card for a style of American independent film that has become synonymous with this centrally focused generation.
The performances are where this film truly comes alive. Adams stars here in what is undoubtedly one of her best turns to date. The film itself carries about it an air of melancholy, but it that very sense of deep depression that is seen behind the eyes of Adams, that turns this film into something truly powerful. Her relationship and chemistry with co-star Sophia Takal is palpable, both of whom really stand out when they share the screen together. Their relationship feels real in a way most on screen partnerships don’t, especially during the heavier conversations (I’m thinking of one about possibly having children found near the end of the film), making the central themes of the picture all the more enthralling. Toss in some solid turns by the likes of Kent Osborne and Larry Fessenden, and you have a film that is as interesting thematically as it is gripping performance-wise.
Overall, while many will find this film to be light and airy, especially given Swanberg’s muted aesthetic, those willing to go along for this deeply powerful emotional journey will be rewarded with a thrilling look into a handful of heavy themes facing an entire generation. A film chock full of great performances and memorable sequences, this meditation on aging in the 21st century is one of the year’s best films and is as mature a picture as we’ve seen to date from director Joe Swanberg.