Nothing really happens in Joe Swanberg’s All the Light in the Sky, a return to mumblecore form for the prolific director.
After reaching an artistic and commercial peak in this summer’s Drinking Buddies, Swanberg co-wrote with star Jane Adams this tediously naturalistic and fairly pointless no-budget indie about the compromises of middle-aged femininity.
Adams plays a fictionalized version of herself named Marie, an actress in her 40s whose stature as a critical darling doesn’t help her actually land gigs. All the Light feels like dropping in for a few days at Marie’s cramped beach apartment — in fact, that’s the structure, which finds Marie visited by her 25-year-old niece, Faye (Sophia Takal), also an actress. (Thankfully, they never talk “craft.”)
The best scenes occur during their hangouts, as they surf, drink smoothies, and compliment each other’s breasts. Faye is less a character than a sounding board for Marie, whose confessions about being deprived of the power of beauty in middle age are vaguely interesting, but never emotionally resonant. “I’m not looking forward to taking my clothes off like I used to,” Marie informs Faye, and it’s frustratingly unclear whether the former head-turner is speaking as a woman or a performer.
Swanberg and Adams suggest that Marie is unaware of how attractive she still is, but also compare the inevitable ravages of time on the female face to the eventual destruction of the beach houses precariously built over the California coast.
If beauty is skin deep, this film is too.