Earthbound (2012)

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 02/13/13 23:37:21

"Earth girls are... well, pretty cool."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2013 BOSTON SCI-FI FEST: You wouldn't think a genre as hyphenated as the indie-sci-fi-romantic-comedy would have enough entries to have staples, but "boy thinks he's alien/time traveler/robot, making the girl who thinks he's otherwise sweet uncomfortable" pops up a fair amount. It lives and dies by the performances, which means that writer/director Alan Brennan is pretty fortunate to have Rafe Spall and Jenn Murray in his movie.

Joe Norman (Spall) thinks he's an alien, since that's what his father (David Morrissey) told him when he died: That they had escaped a coup by a vicious cult on their homeworld, and a beacon would be lit in the middle of a certain constellation when it was safe to return. That was fifteen years ago, and now Joe's in his mid-twenties, working in a comic shop when Maria (Murray) comes in to sell some of her childhood toys so she can make rent. Joe's scanner (or watch) says she's 94% biologically compatible, and they turn out to be a good match beyond that - at least, until Joe feels like he should tell her the truth about himself.

There's been a fair amount of talk over the last few years about how geek culture has become mainstream culture, and Earthbound embraces that in a way that a lot of similar movies don't. Joe and Maria are a good-looking pair who like sci-fi, and roughly three seconds is spent on a pretty girl liking Battlestar Galactica being considered odd - and speaking of Galactica, Brennan figures the audience has probably watched enough of that show and the other science fiction works he references to see what he's building without spelling things out or pandering. And while Joe is an oddball who makes a fair amount of social missteps, he's not a stunted weirdo.

In fact, Rafe Spall makes Joe pretty darn charming; our Earth customs may confuse him, but he's not affectedly stiff or inhuman. He plays Joe as a guy who never really planned on normal social interaction and thus never bothered to learn some of the niceties, but is still funny, likable, and capable of sarcasm or hurt after his naivete has been punctured a bit. Murray, meanwhile, is good enough at her job that Maria can be either the funny one or the sane one as situations necessitate, and she's got quick chemistry with Spall. She's also fun playing off Aoife Duffin (as her sister), and a few good gags come from Joe's office mates played by Rory Keenan and John Lynn. And while there's not a lot of David Morrissey, he makes the most of his brief time on-screen, making Bill a dad that kids would want to hang on to.

Spall and Murray are enough fun together that the characters might make for an enjoyable romantic comedy of a more conventional stripe, and while some of the fantastical/delusional elements are nicely done (the hologram projector is kind of perfect), others do feel a bit half-baked. It's tough to shift gears in the last act of a movie like this, and Brennan does okay. The spiffy and the iffy will often end up coming one after another in the climax; fortunately, the movie has built up a lot of good will and the high points more than make up for the rare missteps.

Not that I'd want the more eccentric bits cut out; they're a big part of what makes "Earthbound" a lot of fun. Combine that with a genuinely enjoyable pair of leads, and you've got a pretty entertaining movie.

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