Another Earth (Review)

Sundance prize winner melds drama and sci-fi

A sad young astrophysicist (Brit Marling), improbably doubling as a high school janitor, shows up to offer cleaning services at the neglected home of the even glummer composer (William Mapother) whom she wronged years ago, even though they’ve never met. After much scrubbing, hemming and hawing, the long-faced pair fall in love, even as a humongous alterna-planet inhabited by people who look suspiciously like us drifts into frame, to the evident delight of the evening news.

Director Mike Cahill has stuffed every movie he ever wanted to make, every cockamamie parallel he wanted to draw, into his feature debut. I salute his guts and passion, and his imaginatively careless way with genre. Hold Another Earth up to one starry light and you'll see a sci-fi fantasy about parallel worlds. Seen through a grainier lens is a Sundance melodrama of moral and emotional recovery from trauma and crippling guilt. Both are goofy and good.

Marling, who also wrote and produced the movie with Cahill, brings a far-out premise down to earth and gives quiet desperation a good name as a woman derailed by one tragic mistake. Another Earth is cluttered with unnecessary debris, including a philosophizing voice-over from real-life scientist Richard Berendzen, but it's weirdly satisfying to know that when a ticket to fly presents itself, one of the lovers wins balm for the soul, while the other wins what most of us need — an encounter with a better self. Grade: B-plus

Opens Aug. 19. Check out theaters and show times, see the trailer and get theater details here.
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