There’s been a new trend of finding major film stars in films of a more esoteric nature than we might expect from Hollywood elites. With Jennifer Lawrence in “mother!,” Kirsten Dunst in “Woodshock” and arguably the entire cast of “Blade Runner 2049” flexing their weird, artsy side. Now, seemingly out of the blue, Blake Lively and Jason Clarke put their say in the matter with “All I See Is You.” Ironically, “All I See Is You” is technically the oldest of the four films mentioned previously, as it premiered at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival. Picked up by Open Road Films for distribution for an August release, only to be pushed back to September, and two days before its September release, was pulled from the schedule, then was quickly added back for an Oct. 27 release, with no trailers or promotional materials posted as of yet. Seemingly dumping all the promotionals at once, Open Road Films now has the film opening in limited release, a quirky compromise after its attempts at wide release faltered. One might look in and think what has to be wrong with “All I See Is You” for it to be so unlovable?
Not much, apparently.
Gina (Blake Lively) is a blind woman living in Bangkok with her husband, James (Jason Clarke), due to his work in insurance. When an opportunity for a corneal transplant in her right eye becomes available, she undergoes the surgery and regains sight for the first time since childhood. With her newfound vision, Gina begins to approach life in a much more spontaneous and exciting manner, to the chagrin of James, who believes she is becoming reckless. The two’s new standard of life begins the couple on a path in realizing that with Gina’s new eyesight, disturbing realizations about the two of them will come to light in the new clarity.
“All I See Is You” is an incredibly engaging film that surprised me at every turn it took. With Open Road’s cryptic and limited marketing campaign, it was hard to know what type of film I was entering into, which only made the visually and viscerally sumptuous end product all the more compelling. This is a much more artsy film than one might expect from the premise detailed, but it’s an incredibly moving approach into describing the world that the blind Gina imagines surrounding herself and the reality she awakens to after her surgery. It’s a beautifully eclectic and thrilling experience that is shrouded in ambiguity and dark wonder that balances fantasy and reality wonderfully.
Lively has never been better as Gina. Disoriented by her surroundings, Gina’s ebb and flow between excitement and fear of her new abilities is wonderfully realized by Lively. Lively has always been an actress better than the films surrounding her, but “All I See Is You” is the first film where it feels like the film is up to snuff with Lively’s, for lack of a better term, lively performance. She brings an emotional heft to Gina that’s intrinsic with her performance, one that has a real feeling on the struggles of blindness that pervade everyday life beyond the grand scheme of blindness. Clarke also is great in the film, striking an uneasy tone with James, never feeling malicious, but never feeling truly there for Gina, he’s an enigmatic character that’s a wonder to watch unfold on screen, and Clarke is one of the most fitting actors to do so.
Directed by Marc Forster, this is easily his most esoteric work to date, utilizing otherworldly visuals in visualizing the world that Gina imagines surrounds her, and how these images contribute to the perception of the world she gains from sight. Forster doesn’t bother making things cut and dry for the audiences to take in with a general certainty, leaving much of the film up for interpretation to the audience, something that we learned with “mother!,” won’t go down easy with mainstream audiences. Still, there’s a challenging, uncomfortable aspect of “All I See Is You” that Forster embraces like his own and runs with to become the uniquely dark experience that “All I See Is You” is. It’s not a full-on thriller, nor is it a straight drama, but rather a strange hybrid that works on its own terms without trying to conform to any genre standard levied by Hollywood against it. With its own approach, “All I See Is You” is a slow-burn, taking a while to fully realize the vision it’s going for, but once it does, it’s entrancing to watch.
“All I See Is You” is a sexual film, but it’s far from a sexy one. Focused on how vision affects sex and the influence it holds over both Gina and James’ behavior, “All I See Is You” can be quite explicit at times, sometimes gratuitously so. Still, it doesn’t lack meaning, as the comparison between Gina’s blind fantasies and the dark side to sex she discovers on her own often reflect each other in a disturbing reality. It’s a weirdly off-putting, yet compelling element to the story that felt essential to the delivery of its story.
While the film is beautiful, there’s a strangely muted aspect to it that makes the film really reflect the mixture of disappointment and excitement Gina has over her new sight. Of course Gina finds excitement in finally being able to see after decades of blindness following a childhood car accident, but her disappointment over the lack of fantastical wonder left in the world really lends to the film’s sometimes muted aesthetic. Still, when the film does lend itself to the stranger aspects of reality, it’s a hypnotic and beautifully uncomfortable look at the world that Gina now gets to discover for herself for the first time. When the film lends itself to fantasy, it’s a darkly entrancing vision á la Guillermo Del Toro that’s nearly impossible to look away from. The last act of the film doesn’t lend itself to it too much after Gina regains her sight, but still offers a lot to look at within the dichotomy of the two visions.
“All I See Is You” is a wonderfully unique and challenging piece on the merits of sense and how each sense can shape us in ways we can’t imagine within ourselves and through others. Forster’s approach to the film is an admirably ambitious one that actually pays off heavily for the filmmaker. You can criticize Forster’s hit-or-miss work as a filmmaker at times, but even at his lower points, you can never say that Forster isn’t always trying something new, which I think will lend itself well to “All I See Is You,” whether or not you like the film as much as I do. Lively gives a wonderfully commanding performance as the interestingly frustrating Gina and the equally, if not more frustrating James through Clarke. It’s not going to hit with everyone, but the way in which “All I See Is You” tells its story is a unique, entrancing and gorgeously intoxicating approach to already challenging material.
Directed by: Marc Forster
Starring: Blake Lively, Jason Clarke, Ahna O’Reilly, Yvonne Strahovski, Wes Chatham and Danny Huston.
Runtime: 110 minutes
Rating: R for strong sexual content/nudity and language.
Opens Oct. 27 in select Charlotte-area theaters.
Open Road Films presents, a SC International Pictures, 2DUX², Wing and a Prayer Pictures and Link Entertainment production, a film by Marc Forster, “All I See Is You”