Near the beginning of “Comet,” the debut feature from writer-director Sam Esmail, a title card sets the action “a few parallel universes over” and mentions that it takes place over six years. This gives the film a vaguely sci-fish structural conceit that it never fully takes advantage of nor explores.
The story follows Kimberly and Dell, a couple played by Emmy Rossum and Justin Long, through a series of scenes in their life together, shifting in time and relationship status. With its tight focus on the pair and their up-and-down couple-dom, the film comes to feel claustrophobic and reductive. Even a series of phone calls involving the health of Dell’s mother feel more like intrusions than part of the larger fabric of his life.
Both Long and Rossum manage to make the most of it, using small changes in how they look and interact to give a sense of where the couple is in their trajectory. Rossum, perhaps buoyed by her time on TV’s “Shameless,” conveys a quietly explosive interior life, while Long moves further away from the everyman nice-guy-ness that identified him earlier in his career into depicting a character who is more brittle and thorny.
“Comet” can feel like some ersatz rendering of “(500) Days of Summer” in the way Esmail’s screenplay wants to both be a romance and deconstruction of romantic storytelling at the same time. Yet there is just enough in “Comet” to keep it from fizzling out entirely – largely in the performances of Long and Rossum – but its conceits also get in the way of its characters, making it feel fussy and convoluted when it aims for something more simple and elegant.
MPAA rating: Rated R for language including sexual references, and some drug use.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
Playing: Sundance Sunset Cinemas, Los Angeles