AFI Fest 2012
By Don Simpson | November 3, 2012
Director: Joe Swanberg
Writers: Joe Swanberg, Jane Adams
Starring: Jane Adams, Sophia Takal, Larry Fessenden, Kent Osborne, Allison Baar, Lindsay Burdge, Susan Traylor, Ti West, Simon Barrett, David Siskind
If you have seen Autoerotic, then it will probably come as no surprise when writer-director Joe Swanberg opens All the Light in the Sky with Jane Adams’ character climbing into a wet suit. Adams plays Marie, a single 45-year old actress who lives alone in an ocean front home. While Marie is getting beaten out for Hollywood roles by actors like Kristen Wiig, there is an ultra-low-budget-indie-film that she is interested in because — in Marie’s words — “it has a good script.” This is the first real hint that we are watching something that is probably pretty close to Adams’ current reality; because, unfortunately, Adams has never really gotten another role as great as Joy Jordan in Todd Solondz’s Happiness (1998)…at least not until Swanberg started casting her in his ultra-low-budget-indie-films.
Co-written by Adams, All the Light in the Sky‘s Marie works (when she can get work, that is) in a career that seems to forget about women after they turn 40. Okay, maybe they are not completely forgotten, but women’s role choices are extremely limited post-39, especially in Hollywood. Concurrently, Marie’s dating life is no less difficult. It seems to be a proven fact that as most men age, they begin to turn to prey upon younger women. Marie’s paddle boarding buddy Rusty (Larry Fessenden) is precisely one of these lecherous men. Despite being approximately the same age as Marie, Rusty is primarily interested in women who are half his age. “The-patting-and-the-granny-and-the-cute” scene awkwardly (and quite brilliantly) showcases just how Marie and Rusty’s comfortable friendship can flip within seconds to such an earth shattering level of sexual tension. Marie does, however, have a fleeting fling with Dan (Kent Osborne); but Dan seems to be perpetually stoned — presumably this is what happened to Kent, post-Uncle Kent (a film that intelligently discusses aging from the male perspective) — and his interest in Marie is questionable at best. Let’s just say that Dan is obviously not someone who is going to fit well into Marie’s current lifestyle. He might be good to have around to repair a broken toilet seat, but Dan is certainly not prime marriage material…but, then again, does Marie really want to get married?
As a juxtaposition to Marie, we are introduced to her niece — Faye (Sophia Takal) — who has come to the west coast to visit Marie. A New York City actress, Faye is gleefully in love with her boyfriend (Lawrence Levine) with whom she Skypes and calls on a nightly basis. Faye seems interested in marrying her boyfriend; after spending this time with Marie, she seems all the more certain of that decision. When Marie and Faye discuss the inherent power and freedom of youth — especially for women — it does not come off as a heavy-handed feminist diatribe, instead it is merely an aunt giving her niece some very pertinent career and life advice. It is embarrassingly unfortunate, but there is no denying that youth is highly beneficial for women in both dating and acting. If Faye learns anything from this experience, it is that she should probably get married while she is still young and perky; and it might be a worthwhile decision for her to abandon acting and start a family before she is “over-the-hill.”
Then again, Marie still clearly loves her craft; this is made obvious as she dutifully researches the role that she hopes to get in the ultra-low-budget-indie-film. And, hey, at least ultra-low-budget-indie-film directors such as Swanberg still see the value of women, no matter what their age. While there might not be big money associated with these roles, characters like Marie exist to remind us that actors like Adams still exist and maybe — just maybe — bigger budget films will realize that Adams is still a very viable lead actor.
Ever since I first viewed All the Light in the Sky, a recurring thought has been running through my mind: I think the west coast lifestyle has finally rubbed off on Swanberg. I see All the Light in the Sky as the first real west coast (specifically Los Angelean) film of Swanberg’s career, and not just because it is a film about actors. First of all, I cannot think of another Swanberg that has spent this much time outdoors or focused this much on nature. Swanberg has always seemed much more comfortable shooting indoors, in confined spaces. (It is worth noting, however, that most of the outdoor shots in All the Light in the Sky are still very restricted.) Additionally, the conversations of Swanberg’s films have almost always revolved around his characters’ existential crises; societal and world issues, such as environmentalism or feminism, have never been so front and center. With All the Light in the Sky, Swanberg also opens up the discussion to solar and wind energy, rising sea levels and the healing powers of smoothies.