Exclaim! - - FILM - ALEX HUD­SON

Di­rected by Akash Sher­man

If you’re the type who gets choked up read­ing Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot” es­say and en­joy lis­ten­ing to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “we are star stuff” spiel on YouTube, Clara is the movie for you. With its story about hunt­ing the uni­verse for in­hab­it­able plan­ets, this is the filmic em­bod­i­ment of that GIF of Eric Ware­heim hav­ing his mind blown in space. The story fol­lows Dr. Isaac Bruno ( Suits’ Patrick J. Adams), a down-on-his-luck as­tronomer who loses his univer­sity po­si­tion and be­comes ob­sessed with sift­ing through NASA data in or­der to dis­cover Earth­like plan­ets. He brings on an un­der­qual­i­fied but keen re­search as­sis­tant named Clara (Troian Bel­lis­ario of Pretty Lit­tle Liars) to help him, and they de­velop a pseudo-ro­man­tic bond while si­mul­ta­ne­ously cop­ing with past trau­mas. The pair’s solemn, sen­ti­men­tal de­bates about the mean­ing of life are sound­tracked by epic strings and dron­ing, ce­les­tial synths. Isaac is datadriven and prac­ti­cal, while the quirky Clara is more con­cerned with ab­stract feel­ings. She ul­ti­mately helps Isaac ap­pre­ci­ate that there’s more to life than num­bers — an unin­spired nar­ra­tive trope that paints Clara into the box of manic pixie dream girl. Some scenes quite lit­er­ally por­tray her as hav­ing a con­nec­tion with aliens, mak­ing her feel less like a real per­son and more like a ve­hi­cle to as­sist Isaac on his jour­ney.

The film flirts with sci-fi, but di­rec­tor/co-writer Akash Sher­man is ul­ti­mately more con­cerned with mat­ters of the heart. It’s a bit like In­ter­stel­lar, ex­cept every­one stays on Earth and deals with their emo­tions. That’s a shame, since Clara’s science is more in­trigu­ing than its philo­soph­i­cal mus­ings, and it’s tempt­ing to imag­ine how it might have played out with a higher spe­cial ef­fects bud­get. De­spite these flaws, Clara works quite nicely as a mood piece: the colours are muted, the score is ap­pro­pri­ately ethe­real, and it ef­fec­tively cap­tures Isaac’s de­pres­sion as he searches for mean­ing in his bro­ken life. And more than any­thing, the film is ad­mirably am­bi­tious. Sher­man is in his early 20s, Clara is his first nar­ra­tive fea­ture, and it’s about noth­ing less than the mean­ing of life and the quest to find if we’re alone in the galaxy. Sher­man’s ide­al­ism is in­fec­tious. (D Films)

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