Boy meets girl. It’s one of the oldest types of stories in fiction, and here it’s told again, although differently than it usually is. In Comet, we get to witness approximately five key moments in the relationship between our two leads — taking place over six years, and set against often colorful or interesting backdrops. There’s the initial meeting, intimate moments, fights, reconciliation, the whole nine yards. The film really does want to showcase all aspects of a relationship.
The leads are Dell (Justin Long), someone whose therapist believes suffers from narcissistic personality disorder, because he thinks he’s the smartest person in the room at all times. His response: “What if I am?” He meets Kimberly (Emmy Rossum) at a meteor shower viewing, although she’s there with a date and shows very little interest, at first, in large part because Dell is a negative and neurotic man. However, their relationship wouldn’t last six years if she blew him off there, so eventually they wind up talking, laughing, noticing attraction, and so on. We then jump around to several other points in the relationship, often at random.
That’s … essentially all that there is to Comet. If the film took place chronologically and didn’t have a stylistic way of transitioning, then we probably wouldn’t even be talking about it. There isn’t much here that we haven’t seen before, multiple times, except that the way it’s presented keeps us engaged. We want to know what led from one stage to the next, or why we’re jumping back and forth, almost like a dream. An early scene tries to dissuade us from thinking that’s what’s going on by making fun of films that do that.
You know, looking at the film after it’s over, it’s easy to notice a lack of depth, a lack of content, and a lack of originality when it comes to the characters and their situations. We’re pretty much just watching a lengthy on-again, off-again relationship, one that seems much more complex than it is because of the way director Sam Esmail has framed it for us. That can irritate some viewers, but it fascinates me. Yes, playing with film form really can make that big of a difference. It’s tough to become bored while watching Comet, and that effect is achieved with very little content.
I don’t think that all that jumping around is done solely to hide how little is actually here. It also reminds us of how we think back to specific isolated incidents — in any relationship, not just in a romantic one — and dwell on them. Sometimes you wish you could change what you said or did, while other times you just reminisce and learn from what happened.
Comet has good actors who get to play characters who change a lot over the course of the six years in which the film takes place. Justin Long is our lead, and he definitely knows how to play someone who thinks he’s the smartest man in the room. He’s often funny, providing Comet with most of its humor, and some of the monologues he gets to spout are good fun to listen to. Meanwhile, Emmy Rossum works as his opposite. She’s the emotional one who believes in love, not the jaded one who hates all happy things.
It all breaks down in the end, concludes with the exact scene that you expect it to, doesn’t offer as many surprises as one might hope, and after it’s all over is not likely to leave a particularly long lasting impression. In fact, you might like it less the more you think about it. But it’s a success in the moment, both when it comes to its direction and its acting.
Comet is the type of film that will entertain you for its entire running time, but after it’s over you’ll recognize that it doesn’t have a whole lot of content, and very little of it will stay with you. That’s okay. As an exercise in playing with film form, it serves as an example of how a director can hide a lack of content with the way he frames and approaches it, all while actively saying something about that content. Its actors are hard-working and worthy of your time. Comet is sometimes funny, sometimes dramatic, but unlikely to have much profundity in the long run.