Year: 2017
Director(s): Pete Ohs, Andrea Sisson
Writer(s): Pete Ohs
Region of Origin: US

Rating: n/a
Color, 88 mins

Synopsis: A guy, a girl, and a robothead hike across a desert planet in search of a mythological lake and the better life it represents. (Source)

Sci-fi is usually a telltale indication of the times, and nowadays, there are a lot of dark stories out there. Pete Ohs and Andrea Sisson’s Everything Beautiful is Far Away is not one of these bleak tales, but an about-face from its peers, a whimsical adventure with a big heart and intimate premise. Celebrating its minimalism in clever ways, this otherworldly trek through the desert is a smart metaphor of human connection and finding hope through one another – there’s also a decapitated robot head with eyes that pierce and charm in the best of ways. With a plot that adheres almost exclusively to two characters, stars Joseph Cross and Julia Garner shine with innocence and wit, making for a fun, cute film about souls lost and found. A score from Neon Indian’s Alan Palomo adds even more sparkle to an already bright film.

Things center around Lernert (Joseph Cross), who’s long abandoned civilization to live alone in the desert with a robot he created named Susan (voiced by Jillian Mayer). After Susan’s body breaks down, Lernert vows to roam the dunes in search of new parts. When the film kicks off, Lernert’s quest has remained fruitless and is further sidetracked when he finds a young woman named Rola (Julia Garner), unconscious and on the edge of death after unwittingly eating a poison flora. It’s soon discovered that Rola is looking for the mythical Crystal Lake, a source of water that carries with it the prospect of a better life. Lernert keeps his true ambitions close to the chest, but soon the two find their journey’s intertwined, eventually risking everything for a common goal.

Ohs and Sisson’s greatest asset is simplicity, allowing a sincere idea to breathe and form organically in an endearing way. When you break things down, it’s easy to see what makes the story so appealing – at its root, it’s about two lost souls, each driven to the edge of civilization who start out as strangers but end up bonding to chase a dream they may never attain. Ohs and Sisson have found a way to bring such a primal idea to screen in a way that’s inventive and a pure delight. While there’s a myriad of ways that such a concept could’ve played out, Ohs and Sisson keep things broad while still maintaining intimacy. There are romantic flourishes swirling about, but innocence is key, allowing things to happen through a friendship that feels blindingly genuine. For a story that has its characters wandering nondescript dunes for its entirety, it never feels boring – Ohs and Sisson know that its not the physical journey that’s striking, it’s Lernert and Rola’s emotional adventure of connection and understanding.

Since the film does keep its setting deliberately nebulous, Joseph Cross and Julia Garner’s performances are a fitting anchor. As Lernert, Cross is meek and inquisitive, wearing his heart on his sleeve with an almost childlike demeanor. Though the entire thing is framed from Lernert’s perspective, Julia Garner’s Rola is the film’s heart. Garner is a great foil to Cross, more assertive and willing to throw caution to the wind if it feels right. Garner makes Rola both an element of chaos and a propulsive force of change. The two actors make a great pair, fleshing out the story’s minimalism by giving it warmth and humanity. Not to be overlooked, Jillian Mayer’s voice work as robot head Susan is great as well, offering deadpan delivery and levity to break things up in all the right moments.

Everything Beautiful is Far Away is visually stunning and speaks volumes with so little – its brevity flies by with ideas that stick. There’s quirk but it doesn’t feel forced, and there isn’t a single cynical frame in the film, making it something that feels fresh. The message behind Ohs and Sisson’s film is a simple one, but a fundamental human truth that we need to be reminded of now more than ever.