In a way, Comet is about time travel. It doesn’t feature time machines or sci-fi technology, but its jumpy narrative whisks the audience throughout various points in a couple’s six year relationship, snapping from an intoxicating high to a heartbreaking low in the blink of an eye. The couple in question consists of Kimberly (Emmy Rossum) and Dell (Justin Long), who meet one night during a meteor shower viewing party at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles. But before we see how their whole first night plays out, the film cuts to a much later point, a troubled time when the relationship has soured and they’re barely putting up with each other. Soon, though, we’re taken right back to the cemetery on that first night, watching them feel each other out and seeing the earliest sparks of the romance to come.
It’s a conceit that’s been used in film before – the most obvious comparison would be to (500) Days of Summer – but instead of telegraphing exactly how the story ends before it begins, there’s still a sense of mystery to how this will all play out. In (500) Days, we know from the beginning that Tom and Summer aren’t going to end up together, so the audience watches them at a bit of a distance, not wanting to get too invested in something they already know is destined to fail. Comet allows you the opportunity to root for the characters to stay together because we don’t know how it ends. It gives the audience the chance to make up our own minds about whether or not we think these people belong together. Writer/director Sam Esmail structures the screenplay in such a way that the timeline is purposefully obfuscated, so every moment matters as we try to figure out what stage of the relationship is playing out before us and when it takes place in relation to what we’ve seen before. Even if you don’t get fully invested in the characters, the second layer of figuring out the movie’s timeline should be intriguing enough to keep viewers satisfied.
Justin Long plays Dell, an intensely smart but deeply sardonic guy who makes Sherlock-level observations of little details about people to parse together the bigger story of their lives, and his big mouth ensures that he never keeps his opinions to himself. In the film’s fantastic opening scene, Dell is waiting in line to get into the cemetery and sees Kimberly for the first time as she comes up behind him to meet her date, a handsome but shallow L.A. idiot who spouts his own observations about everything from why the Beatles suck to why New York is a terrible place. Dell stands there and overhears these ramblings (Esmail perfectly nails this kind of L.A. idiot who opines so loudly that he obviously wants everyone within earshot to hear), and in a scene that wouldn’t be out of place in a Woody Allen film, Dell finally can’t take it anymore and proceeds to psychoanalyze Kimberly’s date to his face before blatantly asking her for her number. Dell’s the type of guy whose mouth often gets him into trouble, but he just can’t help opening it. He can be romantic at times, but he’s mostly oblivious to other people’s (including Kimberly’s) feelings, and as you might expect from someone so who talks so much, he’s selfish and abrasive, and a bit difficult to like. It’s an interesting divergence for Long, known for playing the likable nice guy.
Emmy Rossum plays Kimberly, and while I’ve always really liked her as an actress, she does some next-level work here. She’s piercing, curious, razor sharp, fun, bouncy, merciless, and vulnerable, and it’s easy to see why Dell would fall for her. She’s the more grounded character of the two, and though she can definitely keep up with Dell’s mile-a-minute speech patterns, she feels more like a real person instead of a movie character. Most of the film consists of Kim and Dell simply talking to each other, and your mileage may vary on how much of their back-and-forth you can take; it can’t compete with the verite feel of Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy (much of which takes place in real time), and it sometimes strays into feeling indulgent and “written,” but more often than not, Comet connects with the right combination of humor and heartbreak.