In Another Earth, MIT-bound Rhoda (potential indie It Girl Brit Marling, who also co-wrote) semi-drunkenly drives into a car, killing the wife and young son of composer John (William Mapother). Hollowed out by guilt, as well as a seven year prison stint, Rhoda attempts an in-person apology to the still-deeply grieving John, but succeeds only in accidentally becoming a maid to his aggressively unkempt house. Her hiding of her true identity, even while aiding in John’s slow recovery, represents a ticking time-bomb, especially once their relationship ill-advisedly goes next level.
Oh, and incidentally, a second, parallel Earth has materialized within Earth’s orbit.
The curious-bordering-on-surreal failure of Marling and co-writer/director Mike Cahill to meaningfully fuse their two genres—hardcore sci-fi and grief/guilt satga—hobbles Another Earth, as it hobbled last year’s Monsters, in which a boilerplate romance unfolded against the backdrop of deadly but non-belligerent aliens. The planet—dubbed Earth 2—literally sets the plot in motion: Rhoda was distracted by its first appearance when she plowed into John’s family. After that, it only makes sporadic cameos—mentions on hip-hop stations, stunning vista shots. It’s as though the filmmakers set out to make a stripped-down sci-fi and got so distracted by the stripped-down part they forgot about the sci-fi.
Despite a last-second hail-mary, Earth 2 never makes more than a superficial impact on Rhoda and John’s dilemma; it’s not being cynical to say it’s simply two different films, with the less interesting one getting by far the most screentime. In interviews, Cahill raps about quantum physics and the possibility of second chances and questions of identity—concepts almost entirely absent from the film he’s turned in.
This would be forgivable if the drama was powerful, and while it’s well-acted, it’s also rote and unconvincing, particularly once Rhoda and John become more than just employee and boss. You’ve seen this movie before, albeit not with the odd shot of a huge planet looming in the sky, and perhaps not this well-filmed. Cahill also served as cinematographer, and the cramped, dim look, mostly shot with natural light, makes for a film that looks good but has too little on its mind.