Can Brit Marling Shine Bright Enough to Carry Another Earth?

There may be nothing as Old Hollywood as the narrative about a pretty girl summoning up a dose of pluck to triumph over adversity. And yet Brit Marling—the lithe, stunning co-writer and star of 2011 Sundance Film Festival hits Another Earth and Sound of My Voice, who gives good quotes about how she had to become a screenwriter because she wanted more from her acting career than prototypical starlet parts amounting to “girl in bikini running from man with chainsaw”—has been hailed as both the atypical “it” girl of the moment, and the hope for the future in which, instead of complaining about The Man/men holding them down, sisters start doin’ it for themselves, or whatever.

In the first of the Marling films to make it to market, Mike Cahill’s Another Earth, Marling plays Rhoda, a 17-year-old who is celebrating her acceptance to MIT to study astrophysics on the same night that a new planet is discovered. Called Earth 2 by the denizens of Earth 1, this planet will prove to house a parallel universe populated by doppelgängers for each Earth resident. Buzzed on beer and distracted by this new orb on the horizon, Rhoda crashes her car into a sedan carrying renowned composer John Burroughs (William Mapother) and his pregnant wife and young son. Burroughs is left comatose, his family dead, and Rhoda spends the next four years in jail instead of college.

Post-prison, Rhoda takes a job as a janitor, her golden locks trailing out from under a gray beanie, blowing her cover as an anonymous plebe. Her talent for spin first becomes evident when she enters an essay contest to win a trip on a Richard Branson–like entrepreneur’s shuttle to Earth 2. “As a felon, I’m an unlikely candidate for most things, but perhaps not for this,” she argues. “Perhaps I’m the most likely.” Soon she talks her way into Burroughs’s secluded home, claiming to have been sent by a cleaning service. Instead of putting the pieces together that his lovely new maid is responsible for his sorry state, Burroughs, evidently brain-damaged and self-medicating with booze, puts the moves on her. Improbably receptive to this broken-down middle-aged man’s advances, the nubile impostor keeps her actual identity mum until plot contrivance forces a confession.

Earths eyeball each other.
Fox Searchlight Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Earths eyeball each other.

Conceptually, Another Earth is superficially similar to both the recent Fassbinder rediscovery World on a Wire and Lars Von Trier’s upcoming Melancholia—comparisons that don’t flatter Cahill and Marling’s mash-up of shoestring sci-fi and treacly redemption melodrama. Unable to organically incorporate their Big Ideas into the narrative, the filmmakers lazily lay them on top, leaving the exposition of Another Earth’s structuring fantasy to a blanket of background voiceover. Everywhere Rhoda goes, there’s a radio tuned to the same hip-hop station, whose DJ is prone to Earth 2–related exclamations, or a TV tuned to Earth 2 punditry. “Could we even recognize ourselves?” ponders a male voiceover, identified very late in the film as a theorist spouting educated guesses on Earth 2’s impact on the space-time continuum. “And would we really know ourselves?” This dorm-room stoner stuff masquerading as intellectual inquiry often soundtracks montages of Marling walking around, doing very little other than being beautiful.

Which is to say that Cahill is well aware of his film’s true strength. Handheld, grainy, and under-lit, Another Earth is routinely so ugly that Marling’s extravagant, appropriately otherworldly beauty functions as its most impressive special effect. The film’s visual design is centered on the luminosity of her face, which truly lights up every frame it dominates, even as her performance rarely strays from a baseline pose—wide-eyed, lips slightly parted like a teenage high-fashion model’s, straddling the tenuous line between an enigma and a void. As screenwriter, Marling gives herself one climactic speech, but rather than risk asking his star to pull off a sustained performance, Cahill, in what scans as a lack of confidence in both his actress and his audience, juliennes it into a montage.

As Another Earth’s relationship between the gullible sad sack and the flaxen-haired fraud overtakes its interplanetary premise as the driving force of the film, it becomes clear that Marling’s primary—if potentially unconscious—subject is the politics and mechanics of beauty as a tool of manipulation. You could well argue that Marling has written what she knows, but she’s also created for herself a character whose undeniable physical appeal overwhelms all other aspects of her personality, in a film so drunk on that appeal that even a suicide attempt is sexualized. Another Earth wants us to believe in the transformative possibilities of second chances. But if it represents a female author’s remaking of Hollywood rules, why is it so much like the same old bullshit?

 
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9 comments
Hexadecimal
Hexadecimal

Hey Karina,

Ignore the haters - you gave a good, clean read on a film that benefited too much from the low oxygen levels at Sundance, and the appealing backstory of This Year's Model.

Film is an ambitious but underpowered stab as blending a kosmic Horton Hears a Who trip with redemption melodrama... just as you describe.

Note to admirers of the film: maybe watch some Tarkovsky or Kieslowski? But ease into it...

BTW: is it just me, or does "Primer" look more under-rated each year?

Gggggggguuuuu
Gggggggguuuuu

1. You're obviously the quintessential failed writer/director with an Arizona State thesis film about how your cat died, who then after decided to earn a living shitting on everyone else who actually can do it. Or even tries to.

2. The world is already full of pretentious douchebags who contribute nothing. Find something else to do.

3. I haven't even seen this movie. Nor do I intend to. I just disliked this review that much.

afilmlady
afilmlady

Having read many of her past reviews, Ms Longworth is far above women hating on women. It's fine to disagree with any reviewer, but it's pretty low to reduce her critique to cattiness, nor does it help women to continue to victimize themselves as 'second class citizens.' To me the question isn't whether or not Marling is talented, it's a good point that it tends to be the 'pretty faces' that the media swarms over, though there are many talented independent women filmmakers whose films are fantastic without being driven by a pretty girl. The review just asks a little more of the story, and though it can sting it should be helpful to the filmmakers in the future.

Jim
Jim

Watching Fox movies results in more revenue for Fox and Murdoch, right?

Sophie
Sophie

I wholly disagree with the above reviewer. I read the review before having seen the film earlier, and it resonated with me as unnecessarily catty. Ms Longworth utterly undermines a competent young actress and screenwriter. A woman bashing a successful, talented and yes, beautiful woman, in an industry where there is a serious dearth of female voices.

Marling of course is beautiful, but she is many other things at that. The relationship between John Burroughs and Rhoda proves to be, considering their mutual wounds, highly probable, natural, inevitable. Tell me, when it comes to insecure, bitchy women, why is it so much like the same old bullshit?

Ziegfeldman
Ziegfeldman

Everyone brings hers/his own baggage to a work of art. I respect Ms. Longworth's right to bring hers and defend it. I have my own baggage, too.

I have seen "Another Earth" twice, and look forward to many more times. This is, by far, one of the most well-written, well-acted, thought-provoking films you will see this or any other year. The science-fiction premise is metaphorical, the film really concerns itself with an intensely human story of guilt, hurt, forgiveness and possible redemption. The ending will definitely leave you thinking for weeks to come.

This is a "low budget" indie film that looks like "a million bucks." A very simple story that, I promise, will resonate with you--think "High Noon" or "Marty," not in terms of plot, but in terms of beauty and elegance.

As far as Brit Marling being pretty, that is indeed, true, but it's about as relevant as knowing that William Mapother is Tom Cruise's cousin. Both give skilled, understated performances.Thankfully, that is NOT the same old bullshit.

Filmcritic1
Filmcritic1

This is a terrible review about an amazing film. It's clear that Ms. Longworth has some issues (made more evident by googling and image of her ). The village voice should consider finding a film critic that can write objective reviews instead of ones tainted by the writers own insecurities. Go see Another Earth, you won't regret it.

pork
pork

ouch! so much for sisters looking out for each other. this is why women are still second class citizens. god forbid one of them achieves a bit of success. others can't wait to eviscerate her. i'm not saying you should blindly hail all work by all women. maybe this movie really is crap. but am i the only one who notices something else (not so) hidden in the critique? there's a palpable viciousness. a desperate bitterness. a visceral jealousy. how dare that bitch get hers?! and use her looks at that! mind you, i deplore society's idolatry of beauty as much as the next guy but hating on a girl simply for being "beautiful" is the flip side of the same coin. even if this chick is using the same old patriarchal hollywood m.o., at least give her credit for taking control of the reins herself.

 

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