There are two basic approaches to making a movie romance: realistic and fantastic. Most fall into the latter category, constructing obvious wish-fulfillment exercises with virtually no resemblance to the actual messy business of falling and staying in love. Occasionally, a more ambitious filmmaker will make an effort to be truthful—Her is a perfect (if unorthodox) example. What doesn’t work at all, however, is trying to combine the two modes. Brightest Star, which was originally called Light Years, wants to speak some hard truths about contemporary relationships, but the film views its lovers through the sort of gauzy, endlessly forgiving lens employed by facile romcoms. It’s hard to take the struggle for self-improvement seriously when the selves in question look like they just stepped out of a Lands’ End catalog.
So terminally bland is Brightest Star’s protagonist (played by Chris Lowell) that screenwriters Maggie Kiley (who also directed) and Matthew Mullen couldn’t be tasked to provide him with a name—the closing credits refer to him simply as The Boy. As the movie begins, The Boy has just been dumped by the love of his life, Charlotte (Rose McIver); lengthy flashbacks depict their generic courtship, while Charlotte’s increasing dissatisfaction with The Boy’s lack of ambition gets compressed into a cutesy montage of her repeatedly walking into their apartment after work to find him sitting around doing nothing. Desperate to win her back—even though he’s taken up with an aspiring rocker, Lita (Jessica Szohr), who seems much more suited to him—The Boy tries to clean up his act, getting a dull corporate job and even vaguely pursuing a career in astronomy, based mostly on the fact that he and Charlotte met in an astronomy class.
That’s not a terrible idea for a movie, and Kiley expanded Brightest Star from an acclaimed short film, “Some Boys Don’t Leave,” starring Jesse Eisenberg. Eisenberg’s flinty personality is sorely missing from the feature, however, as Lowell comes across like a younger, flimsier version of John Krasinski. Nor does The Boy demonstrate any genuine rapport with Charlotte, who registers as little more than wide eyes and a dazzling smile. That would be fine if the movie sought to indict its hero for objectifying her, but she’s just as vacuous as he is; both lead actors seem to have been cast almost exclusively for their preppy good looks. It’s up to Clark Gregg, as Lita’s boorish father, and Allison Janney, making a quick cameo as an astronomer, to inject a bit of life (and star power) into this low-wattage trifle. Fantasy characters in a bleakly realistic scenario will leave nobody satisfied.