All the Light in the Sky
Directed by Joe Swanberg
Swanberg’s latest is only his second feature of the year, a snail’s pace for the director who churned out six movies in 2011. He’s gotten slower but stayed steady: All the Light in the Sky is classic Swanberg, a smart, talky, ambling feature, this one about a struggling middle-aged actor (cowriter Jane Adams) who can only find ultra-low-budget work because Kristen Wiig is grabbing all the well-paying studio work—though her Pacific oceanside rental home isn’t much to bemoan! Into that unit visits her niece, also an actor diegetically and non-—Sophia Takal, one of the indie directors and/or Swanberg company regulars who fill out the film: Larry Levine (Takal’s boyfriend onscreen and IRL), Larry Fessenden, Ti West (as himself), and Kent Osborne.
So, this is a movie about movies, or at least the people who make them. But it’s not a weird, angry, passionate stroke of brilliance like the director’s Silver Bullets, a horror-hybrid in which Ti West also played himself, also trying to sleep with buzzy young actresses via the casting process. Instead, it’s a loose portrait, sometimes shot on cell phones, of a culture and the individuals within it, not about the art but the people: a look at two generations (the up-and-coming and the already-came) and how they fit into the industry—how it fits into them.
Most of all, it feels like a gift from the director to its star and screenwriter, not unlike what Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha was to Greta Gerwig (who was once Swanberg’s regular collaborator—ah! So incestuous! So full-circle!). You can’t help but feel it’s loosely autobiographical, the eroding seashore a poignant metaphor for the fragility of our situations: careers, relationships, living situations, identities. A person can enter our lives and disrupt our routines, and we can push them out and restore balance just as easily. This is a movie about getting older, how we’re all like the sun: bright, historic, and fading.
Opens December 20