What is an actor to do if they aren't getting good roles? They write one for themselves to star in, frequently leading to fruitful careers. Sylvester Stallone created Rocky; Matt Damon and Ben Afleck co-wrote Good Will Hunting and won an Oscar; Nia Vardalos wrote My Big Fat Greek Wedding which went on to be one of the biggest indie movies of all time. Now you can add Brit Marling to the list as the Sundance Audience Award-winning film, Another Earth, that she co-wrote with director Mike Cahill has launched her career into orbit. She's filming Robert Redford's next movie with more Oscar-winners and nominees to mention; another movie co-starring Ellen Page; and has Arbitrage, co-starring Richard Gere, already in the can. Talk about making your own breaks!
Marling stars as Rhoda, a brilliant young woman - she was accepted to MIT at age 13 - who gets drunk at a party and crashes into another car, killing a pregnant woman and young child, leaving the composer husband in a coma. She gets four years in prison and when she gets out requests a menial job as a high school janitor. She's isolated from the world, but decides to reach out to the man whose life was destroyed by her careless driving. She intends to apologize, but chickens out and pretends to be offering a home cleaning service trial. Over time, she brings order to his life as well as his house, but he doesn't know who she is - as a minor, her records were sealed.
Lurking overhead is the weakest aspect of the movie, the titular other Earth. If you watch the trailer below, you'd think that this mirror planet and the possibility of duplicates of us all is the major plot, but it's a fraction of the story that if it wasn't around, would hardly change the main story of redemption and healing. I wonder if some of the acclaim Another Earth has garnered is because of this superfluous detail, much as the Oscar-nominated nothingburger The Kids Are Alright glossed over its banal plot by making the leads boring lesbians instead of boring heterosexuals. (If you've seen it, I explore the biggest goof the other Earth premise doesn't handle below.)
I had a hard time warming up to Another Earth, but my girlfriend really loved it. I didn't think the relationship between the man - well-played by William Mapother (who will always have "Tom Cruise's half-brother" tag following him around) - and Marling really felt right and the contrived way he doesn't know this woman killed his family makes the inevitable revelation feel formulaic. The look of the film belies its low-budget origins a little too much as well. I also found the way the planets contact each other to be ludicrous. If you knew this other planet was there, you wouldn't try to contact them or send probes for YEARS?!?
While I seem hard on Another Earth, it's not because it's a bad movie but rather because I didn't connect with it; it's just too slight when it could've been more profound. It's a little movie, but that's no excuse for not having bigger ideas.
Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.
*** SPOILER ZONE BELOW - ONLY READ IF YOU'VE SEEN THE MOVIE (or never plan to) ***
The theme of the movie is that the mirroring of the two Earths diverged when they became aware of each other as shown in the very last shot as the other, clearly more successful Rhoda appears. Now if that means the other Rhoda didn't ruin her life with a car crash AND still had the winning entry in the contest (what would've been her essay?) and came here, then it follows that Mapother's family is intact over there, INCLUDING DADDY! What's going to happen when he travels over to be with his not dead family and finds that they already have a father in the form of their version of him?