THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Few things are as grating as movies that mistakenly think they're profound. Bokeh is one of them. The unusual title refers to the out-of-focus portion of a photograph. Of course, very few people will know that, which proves to be an apt metaphor for the entire movie. The makers obviously have high ambitions, but the way they've executed them is not likely to ring a bell with many viewers. The film simply isn't as deep as it thinks it is.
Maika Monroe (It Follows) and Matt O'Leary play Jenai and Riley, a young American couple vacationing in Iceland. One morning, they wake up to discover that everyone else has vanished. Streets are empty, buildings are vacant, and no one back home answers their phones. Faced with the inexplicable possibility that they are the last two people on earth, the confused lovers wander the country, lamenting their fate and occasionally discussing how they will survive without anyone else around.
One of the major flaws with Bokeh is that it starts with the second act. There is no first act. We learn nothing about Jenai and Riley before they find themselves alone. Without the basic introductory material, the couple proves to be generally flat and uninteresting. It is difficult, if not impossible, to relate to movie characters if you don't know a few things about them before the plot fully kicks in. Being told that Riley is a photographer and Jenai is his favorite subject isn't enough.
That feeds directly into another insurmountable problem. Much of Bokeh consists of the characters soul-searching. Riley repeatedly tries to find a way to make Jenai believe that they'll be just fine without other human contact. She, meanwhile, has one existential crisis after another. But because they are one-dimensional personalities, neither his desperation to keep her happy nor her fear of what a lifetime of isolation will mean ring true.
The writing/directing team of Geoffrey Orthwein and Andrew Sullivan keep changing the rules. One minute, Jenai and Riley are making the most of their situation, and the next they're in turmoil. Much of the screenplay is pseudo-introspective dialogue about loneliness and disconnection. While the characters are very serious about this, the writing isn't especially interesting. Thoughts they have are fairly obvious, never really winding their way into anything truly provocative that might cause us to question our own response to such a scenario. For whatever flaws it may have, the recent Passengers is a more compelling examination of what being alone can psychologically do to a person.
The talented Maika Monroe does admirable work with an underdeveloped character, and the film is filled with beautifully photographed Icelandic scenery. Those are the only things this relentlessly downbeat movie has working in its favor. Bokeh tries really, really hard to let you know how contemplative and meaningful it is trying to be. The truth, however, is that it isn't meaningful at all. The half-baked philosophizing and predictable outcome make the picture an endurance test for your patience.
( out of four)
Bokeh is unrated, but contains adult language. The running time is 1 hour and 32 minutes.
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