“All I See is You” is without a doubt a visually ambitious film. Director Marc Forster (“Monster’s Ball”, “World War Z”) presents a story driven by the sense of sight itself – how sight or the absence of it affects the way people determine truth, about themselves, their relationships, and the world around them.
Unfortunately, the film comes off as trying too hard at conveying sensory and cognitive experiences, and not enough on presenting an engaging story. After a while, that effort at visual innovation becomes a distraction, robbing what could have been a powerful narrative journey of self-discovery of a great deal of its potential impact.
What’s it about?
The film focuses on a seemingly happy married couple, Gina (Blake Lively) and James (Jason Clarke), living abroad in Bangkok, Thailand. Deprived of her sight by a car accident when she was a child, Gina’s made the most of her life – she explores the world around her in her own way, and treasures the love and care she receives from her devoted husband.
What changes everything is, ironically, the one thing Gina hasn’t had her entire adult life that suddenly becomes available: her ability to see. A corneal transplant starts her and James down a road of re-discovery, as Gina can suddenly experience color and light again, and perceive the world and the people around her in a way she barely remembers.
But that road of re-discovery leads to some startling revelations, as well. The life she returns to – home, friends, family, even James – all turn out to be very different than what she’d imagined.
As these realizations sink in, and a desire to push the boundaries of her changed existence springs forth, new tensions and fears creep into her life with James. The result is the proverbial “be careful what you wish for” scenario, with both Gina and James growing increasingly desperate as the almost-idyllic life they knew begins to disintegrate.
Dizzying visual, sensory approach
To tackle the unique challenges of telling the story in “All I See is You” from the perspective of Gina, a blind woman who once could see and has built her entire perception of reality around her memories and her imagination, Forster and director of photography Matthias Koeningwieser adopt a dizzying, almost kaleidoscopic approach to Gina’s point of view.
From the film’s very first moments, images are blurred, doubled, bled in and out of one another as the viewpoint goes back and forth between the formless void Gina perceives and what she imagines when her eyes close. This results in some cases in provocative sensual imagery, as Gina and James’ physical intimacy and their desire to have a child are important to the film’s narrative.
Again, it’s an innovative, imaginative approach to a unique film making challenge, presenting that experience, and the experience of regaining the sense of sight as most audience members will know it. But the effort to bring that experience to life starts to overshadow the rest of the production and by the end just feels gratuitous.
Characters may prove off-putting
If audiences aren’t thrown off by the visual approach to “All I See is You,” then they face another challenge in engaging with the film’s characters.
To be clear, the performers here, Lively and Clarke, deliver solid work in bringing to life Gina and James. Rather, it’s the script behind “All I See is You” and the narrative leaps it presents that audiences may find off-putting or just depressing.
There’s a hint of cynicism to the way Forster and collaborator Sean Conway (Showtime’s “Ray Donovan”) construct the main characters and the foundation upon which their bond rests that makes it all too easy to dislike both of them as the film’s plot unfolds.
Despite all the play with camera effects and efforts at visual ingenuity, “All I See is You” could probably be just as effectively experienced at home on a big screen TV as it can in a theater.
That, when coupled with a film story that underwhelms and ultimately is overshadowed by all the attempts at sensory stimulation, results in a movie experience that’s tough to enthusiastically recommend.
It’s an interesting exercise in film making, but as memorable entertainment it falls short.
All I See is You
Starring Blake Lively, Jason Clarke, Ahna O’Reilly, Yvonne Strahovski, Wes Chatham, Danny Huston. Directed by Marc Forster.
Running time: 110 minutes
Rated R for strong sexual content/nudity, and language