All the Light in the Sky (2012)
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Jane Adams, in a terrific performance, plays Marie, a struggling, middle-aged actress residing in a home perched over a lovely beach in Malibu. Marie is an insomniac, usually getting minimal sleep while she listens to her audiobook, rising in the morning to put on a wetsuit in order to go surfing, and hearing from her publicist about ambitious roles she didn't get due to her age. In walks her young, perky niece Faye of about twenty-five years old, an ambitious actress who appears to be everything Marie was at one point. When Marie's with Faye, she feels younger and clearly sees herself in the young, kindred spirit.
Consider a scene when Marie and Faye go surfing and are putting on their wetsuits. "I wish I always had this extra layer of protection," says Marie, clearly alluding to the need for an extra layer to fend off criticism and life's negative instances. Marie explains how her level of fragility has been increased since getting older in a way that Faye seems to understand but reject, understandably so. Faye is young and really shouldn't be too concerned with what will come later in life. Right now, she has a boyfriend she's sure will be her fiancée, high hopes with acting, and a supportive aunt as a role model - why worry? Another great scene is when the girls are on Marie's balcony, taking off their wetsuits after surfing. They both stand completely naked, in true Swanberg fashion of nonchalantly and maturely dismissing the nudity on screen. The nudity is special because it is so trivial, banal, and unnecessary. Marie tells Faye what great breasts she has been blessed with, perky and alive, and mentions she once had great breasts but they slumped into nothing but unremarkable flatness in recent years. This scene, in short, may pose commentary on Hollywood's treatment of female nudity. If your breasts aren't perky and alive, what value do you have in a sex scene? All the Light in the Sky is littered with little scenes like these, and is made all the more special because of, what film critic Ignatiy Vishnevetsky calls, Swanberg's "potluck" style of filmmaking. The inclusion of filmmakers such as Ti West and familiar faces such as Adams and indie actor Kent Osborne (who also appeared in Swanberg's Uncle Kent) in a documentary-style light, combined with Swanberg's frequent use of improvised dialog, each person is bringing their own particular taste in style to the table and could be potentially voicing their own opinions in their discussions.
All the Light in the Sky's biggest issue is trying to make a clear statement, however. Some scenes feel out of place and leave the film a bit messy and skewed in its theme, as if the film is going for more of a metaphorical statement (the frequent use of Marie's audiobook, long shots of silence, etc) and not the one I feel it is trying to emphasize on (the effects of age and the fall from ones peak). Moreover, this is one of Swanberg's finest pictures, showing him tackling a new subject matter with the same old, delightful mumblecore style. Thankfully this film of Swanberg's is one that is accessible and not burdened by seldom distribution.
NOTE: All the Light in the Sky is available to rent for a low price on Amazon Instant Video after a very limited theatrical run at the tailend of 2013.
Starring: Jane Adams, Sophia Takal, Kent Osborne, Larry Fessenden, and Ti West. Directed by: Joe Swanberg.