“Clara” Is An Ambitious Hunt for the Meaning of Life

While only the second feature from young Akash Sherman; Clara shows some genuine potential that manages to elevate a sweet and simple story into something genuinely more memorable.

Isaac (Patrick J Adams) is an astronomer that’s consumed with finding life on other planets. Rather than take his friends advice to deal with the recent tragedy in his life, he dives deeper into his quest. After meeting an artist named Clara (Troian Bellisario) who shares his passion for space in her art, she joins him as his research assistant in hopes of making a monumental discovery.

While they both are seekers of knowledge and experience, they both have a very different process. As Isaac clings to the rational and quantifiable, Clara pushes him to see more and as time goes on and the two become closer Isaac puts more at risk then his research when he struggles to see what’s been in front of him all along.

Admittedly Clara isn’t without the occasional moment of schmaltz but Akash Sherman shows off a genuine sense of style and assuredness in his storytelling method.

Clara looks amazing (especially on an indie Canadian budget) and manages to craft a unique atmosphere for these characters to live in. Both Adams and Bellisario carry the material with ease thanks to their great chemistry which allows the film to rise above its clumsier moments.

Clara isn’t perfect, but it’s so genuinely sweet that it can’t help but warm your heart.

If you’re type who gets choked up every time you read Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot” essay and enjoy listening to Neil Degrasse Tyson’s “we are star stuff” spiel on YouTube, Clara is the movie for you. With its story about hunting the universe for inhabitable planets, this is the filmic embodiment of that GIF of Eric Wareheim having his mind blown in space.

The story follows Dr. Isaac Bruno (Suits’ Patrick J. Adams). A down-on-his-luck astronomer who loses his university position and becomes obsessed with sifting through NASA data in order to discover Earth-like planets. He brings on an under-qualified but keen research assistant named Clara (Troian Bellisario of Pretty Little Liars) to help him. They develop a pseudo-romantic bond while simultaneously coping with past traumas.

The pair’s solemn, sentimental debates about the meaning of life are soundtracked by epic strings and droning, celestial synths.

Isaac is data-driven and practical, while the quirky Clara is more concerned with abstract feelings. She ultimately helps Isaac appreciate that there’s more to life than numbers — an uninspired narrative trope. That paints Clara into the box of manic pixie dream girl. Some scenes quite literally portray her as having a connection with aliens, making her feel less like a real person and more like a vehicle to assist Isaac on his journey.

The film flirts with sci-fi, but director/co-writer Akash Sherman is ultimately more concerned with grappling with matters of the heart than with extraterrestrials. It’s a bit like Interstellar, except everyone stays on Earth and deals with their emotions. That’s a shame, since Clara’s science is more intriguing than its philosophical musings. It’s tempting to imagine how it might have played out with a higher special effects budget.

Despite these flaws, Clara works quite nicely as a mood piece: the colours are muted. The score is appropriately etherial, and it effectively captures Isaac’s depression as he searches for meaning in his broken life. It gets under the skin even when it doesn’t stimulate the mind.

And more than anything, the film is admirably ambitious. Sherman is in his early 20s and Clara is his first narrative feature. It’s about nothing less than the meaning of life and the quest to find if we’re alone in the galaxy. This as earnest and reverent as films get, and Sherman’s idealism is infectious.

INFO:

Rating: NR
Genre: Drama, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Romance
Directed By: Akash Sherman
Stars: Patrick J. Adams, Troian Bellisario, Will Bowes
Written By: Akash Sherman
In Theaters: May 3, 2019 Limited
On Disc/Streaming: May 3, 2019
Runtime: 105 minutes
Studio: Serendipity Point Films

CRITIC REVIEWS FOR CLARA

Peter Sobczynski
Even if you put all the Manic Pixie stuff aside, Clara is still a frustrating experience.

Ben Kenigsberg
While the movie’s morose mysticism is tolerable enough, once “Clara” starts arguing for following feelings instead of data, it puts on its own tinfoil hat.

Frank Scheck
Bogged down in endless philosophical and scientific discussions filled with technical jargon about such subjects as “quantum entanglement,” Clara forgets to have anything resembling a compelling plot. Or an original one.

Brad Wheeler
The well-acted Clara lacks clarity, and there’s nothing worse than an out-of-focus telescope.

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