Director Joe Swanberg effectively coupled his mumblecore stylistics with a relatable love story and a refreshing setting (a microbrewery in Chicago) in last year's indie rom-com Drinking Buddies. This year's All the Light in the Sky, a festival circuit flick which plays at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday at the Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque is a much smaller and more personal film of the "middle-aged actress" existential ilk; it functions really well as a think piece but accomplishes little from a narrative standpoint.
Marie (the enormous eyed and oft-nude Jane Adams; remember her in Orange County?) is what appears to be a loosely autobiographical 45-year-old actress whose window for Hollywood success has been all but barred. She's now compelled to consider parts in "ultra low-budget" indies while more desirable roles are going to Kristen Wiig-types.
Marie lives on the ocean in a Malibu beach home overlooking the Pacific which erosion will confiscate in something like 10 years. She wriggles into wetsuits and paddleboards daily with her Meatloaf-ish neighbor Rusty. When Marie's 25-year-old niece Faye (the enchanting indie up-and-comer Sophia Takal) comes to stay with her, ostensibly exploring the possibility of the L.A. actress' life for herself, Marie is reminded of her younger days and descends into a kind of midlife crisis. Meantime, she's "researching" a potential role involving high-level solar science, and occasionally trots around with an engineer to have symbolic conversations about the sun, and light, and how light is measured, and "how much light remains."
A gifted and innovative filmmaker, Swanberg wrote the script with Adams, plus shot and edited the film personally. Because of the small cast and crew size (awash in Swanberg's mumblecore buddies), not to mention the style of Marie and Faye's conversations — meandering impromptu tracts on men, sex, hangovers, nostalgia, etc., which represent maybe 40 percent of the 80-minute runtime — it has the very intimate quality of something only a little more polished than a home video.
That's intentional. Like a lot of Swanberg's work, the goal here seems to be capturing an unvarnished, unscripted reality. The film suffers from a basic inability to rise — everyone is more or less the same after they've unburdened themselves of a few big ideas — but by placing fraught conversations and encounters within an ecosystem of metaphors and associations (creeping coastlines, dying stars), Swanberg achieves a level of depth and pathos which feels deliberate and meaningful, even if several of the film's individual moments do not.