Although he started out as a niche icon among genre fans, Sam Esmail rose above “underrated” status to become one of the most prominent writers on modern television. Esmail’s groundbreaking show Mister Robot was a provocative, self-contained work that involved his ideas at nearly every stage of production; Esmail wrote and directed the majority of the first season and directed the entire next three. Mister Robot was inspired by classics like Taxi Driver, Clockwork Orange, The Matrix, Fight Cluband Pi, and debuted on the much less experimental USA Network. It was the exact opposite of what a “hit show” looked like. Nonetheless, Esmail’s idiosyncratic hacker thriller won over critics and generated a passionate fanbase.
After Mister Robot‘s at the Emmys, Esmail has continued to create and produce some interesting television projects. He helped launch the careers of other writers who shared his flexibility with the genre. Esmail created the first season of the Hitchcockian Amazon series Back home before handing over the reins to Kyle Patrick Alvarezand product Briarpatch and the next Watergate drama Gas lighting. He has several projects in active development.
Anyone who has seen Mister Robot knows that Esmail is a massive movie buff, thanks to the show’s constant pop culture references. It’s no surprise that he started out on the film side of the industry. Before Mister RobotEsmail directed the sci-fi romance film Comet, which debuted at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival before entering a limited release by IFC Films. Although Comet wasn’t the breakthrough success he might have been hoping for, it’s an amazing job of original storytelling that Esmail fans might appreciate. If you haven’t seen Cometyou’re missing one of the most underrated sci-fi films of the decade.
Comet opens with a friendly and fortuitous meeting between two science enthusiasts, Dell (Justin Long) and Kimberly (Emmy Rossum). Both are caught in a crowd waiting for a predicted meteor shower. Kimberly becomes irritated by a so-called “intellectual” brother waiting in line, and Dell realizes her frustration. He takes the opportunity to embarrass the selfish young man, and thus begins a conversation with Kimberly. Although it’s an obvious chance to show off her knowledge, Dell manages to charm Kimberly. She can tell that they both enjoy witnessing scientific phenomena, but can’t stand the kinds of crowds that usually gather in front of them.
After a long conversation, Kimberly notices a stark difference between the two. Dell is a complete pessimist, but Kimberly will always look on the bright side of life. Dell initially proclaims that his negativity is based on scientific skepticism, but his inherently pessimistic nature is evident. Either way, Kimberly is fascinated by how her brain works and they agree to watch the meteor shower together. This is the start of a blossoming romance.
Instead of continuing to focus on developing the relationship, Comet flashes forward six years. Dell and Kimberly reunite at a train station and share an awkward but friendly conversation. It is revealed that in the six years since they first met, Dell and Kimberly then dated, then went their separate ways and had a bitter breakup. In the following scenes, Comet take a look at the memories of their entire relationship. There are arguments, moments of romantic bliss, lively reunions, and even the possibility of a proposal. It’s the story of two polar opposites who can’t help but be brought together, told as a barrage of emotional memories.
Similar to sci-fi movies like His or Eternal sunshine of the spotless mindnonlinear storytelling in Comet is an advent and not an obstacle. Based on literal events alone, CometThe story of is not wildly original. However, when it unfolds as a sample of anecdotes, there is an added sense of mystery, intrigue, and suspense. The viewer is forced to wonder how each scene carries over to the next, and they get insights into Dell and Kimberly as the film moves forward, backward, and parallel.
This premise isn’t just a fun way to spice up the “brief encounter” genre; it is the ideal solution for these strong personalities. Dell can be a bit of a nuisance, and Kimberly’s aggravation at the slightest inconvenience could have easily become squeaky. Their personalities are set from the start, and going through the normal stages of a romance might have been predictable from the start. The labyrinthine nature further brings out the nuances of the performances. Both actors have to hint at events we haven’t seen yet, and then make those moments interesting when they actually happen.
It’s a great showcase for two actors who didn’t get the movie roles they deserve. Rossum has been widely acclaimed for her work on Shameless, and she has another strong character who is dominant, but not insensitive. Long had a trickier path to success. He’s perfect as a likeable slacker, but that type of character is often placed in generic comedies. Long showed his depth with the role of Dell, proving he could make a flawed man relatable. Admirably, Long continued to pursue smaller independent film roles after the praise he received for Comet.
However, Esmail is still the star of the film. There’s a formal brilliance to the way it blends musical transitions, and the timeline jumps aren’t shocking. Although Mister Robot is often compared to the works of David Fincher or Stanley KubrickComet proved that there was romance in his obtuse style. I hope this isn’t the last film he directs, but for fans of his work, Comet is an essential watch.
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