CLARA

Star­ring Patrick J. Adams. Rated PG

The Georgia Straight - - Movies - by Ken Eis­ner

AS A SCI-FI–MINDED char­ac­ter study, Clara doesn’t lack am­bi­tion. But even its most earth­bound ideas fail to find real foot­ing. The movie prob­a­bly needed more money, bet­ter ac­tors, and zip­pier spe­cial ef­fects to com­pete in the stargaz­ing cat­e­gory. But what it’s most ob­vi­ously miss­ing, iron­i­cally enough, is imag­i­na­tion. It fails to en­vi­sion a story, let alone a world, not built upon em­bat­tled­loner clichés and ex­hausted gen­der stereo­types.

Ed­mon­ton-born writer-di­rec­tor Akash Sher­man is young, but al­ready has a long-stand­ing in­ter­est in sci­en­tific and philo­soph­i­cal ideas. His first fea­ture, 2015’s The Rocket List, was about the need to pre­serve hu­man knowl­edge be­fore los­ing the planet—a con­cept that grows more pre­scient with ev­ery fast-pass­ing year. Sher­man’s fol­low-up is about the com­pul­sions to make con­tact with alien life—“il­le­gal” or oth­er­wise. Shot in Toronto, Clara of­fers Suits lead Patrick J. Adams as Dr. Isaac Bruno, an as­tro­physi­cist so ded­i­cated to search­ing the stars he gets fired from his univer­sity gig for hog­ging too much tele­scope time. (We’re not told, but maybe that’s why his ex-wife dumped him, too.)

So sure is he that he’s dis­cov­ered some break­through data, the neatly bearded and be­spec­ta­cled as­tronomer sets up his own op­er­a­tion at home. He ad­ver­tises for an as­sis­tant to help track data—be­cause, let’s face it, most space work is math­e­mat­i­cal plot­ting—and seem­ingly gets just one re­ply: from a dark-haired free spirit called Clara (Troian Bel­lis­aro, of Pretty Lit­tle Liars). She has no ex­pe­ri­ence with sci­en­tific stuff, but has done some pretty neat cos­mic paint­ings.

The woman whose first name sug­gests trans­parency and light owns no last name, although she does have an un­spec­i­fied dis­ease— not that she shares this with her new boss. He’s all num­bers and logic, and she’s all about feel­ing and in­tu­ition. Women are from Venus, men are from Mis­sis­sauga. But hey, she can start tonight, and needs a place to stay. Our guy’s skep­ti­cal, but pretty soon she’s the ap­ple of Isaac’s eye. (The fact that they’re a cou­ple in real life ac­tu­ally makes this slightly creepier, like meta­phys­i­cal cos­play.)

Sher­man’s own in­ter­est in space ex­plo­ration seems gen­uine enough, and he comes up with at­trac­tive im­ages on a lim­ited bud­get. But the no­tion of stuffy dude mag­i­cally trans­formed by a dis­pos­able fe­male would be beyond tired even if the main cast had suf­fi­cient charisma and mar­quee value. Some­times you have to rec­og­nize what’s in front of you be­fore star­ing up at the sky.

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