Taylor Raj is back, baby, and this time he's reviewing the Netflix exclusive, The Discovery, starring Jason Segal and Rooney Mara.
The Discovery is a Netflix original drama (3/31/17) which focuses on a neurologist, Will Harber, (Jason Segal) traveling home to visit his estranged father, in a world where the afterlife has irrefutably been proven to exist.
The very first scene drops the viewer six months after the titular Discovery has already been made public. The renowned scientist who made the findings (and Will’s Father) Thomas Harber is being interviewed by a newscaster regarding the millions upon millions of people who have taken their own life to preemptively get to the afterlife. The scene is abruptly concluded when a member of the film staff takes his own life on live television, kickstarting Thomas towards going into reclusion and continuing his research. All in all, it’s an extremely well written, believably acted, and cohesively edited first seven minutes.
Unfortunately, the superior level of quality does not last through the remainder of the movie. The very next scene finds the viewer hastily introduced to Isla (Rooney Mara), in a meeting with Will that draws large parallels to the beginning scene of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Isla is a strange bastardization of the “manic pixie dream girl” trope – instead of a whimsical, and unnaturally quirky ball of light who can’t be contained, Isla is instead a depressing show of flat affect and monotoned musings. Isla only exists as a one-dimensional character who’s only purpose is to show Will the error of his ways, the harm of blanket skepticism, and to exist as an object to take care of. It’s painful watching these two fall in love: the characters are written to be too socially awkward and clinically depressed, and they share only a handful of extremely stilted lines before deciding they’re an item – all within a very small window of time. The relationship doesn’t feel natural, it doesn’t feel convincing, and it doesn’t allow the viewer to invest in anything that is going on on-screen throughout the middle 80% of the movie.
There’s no help from the story beats to mask the character’s misgivings either - it struggles to find it’s tone, often wildly oscillating between the straight-faced maudlin and tongue-in-cheek humor. One scene finds a normally friendly leader giving an extremely tense monologue to a group of his followers for a daunting stretch of three minutes while a previous scene had two characters cracking jokes while literally stealing a stranger’s body from a morgue – an action that in no way suits the protagonist's character in any way. Technical mistakes also run rampant – one scene finds Rooney Mara’s line dubbed in post while her mouth is completely still. Another has the main character breaking into a keypad-secured room, while the rest of the cast is completely unable to enter for sake of not interrupting the plot.
Luckily, the ending of the movie picks up a few of the blatant story notes the film has spent the previous hour and a half beating the ignorant viewer over the head with and twists them into compelling thought exercises. While it is aggravating seeing the ensemble theorize and dialogue in circles around a clearly sign-posted plot points – namely where and what “the afterlife” actually is in the canon - the delivery and execution of the penultimate sequence is quite well thought out: the cuts, writing, acting, and mood finally return to the quality delivered from the initial seven minutes. Of course, the movie decides to sour the sequence by cutting to a sequence that breaks the just previously established rules of the afterlife and pulls an Inception-esque cut-to-black, but in this usage, it seems more likely that writer had no cohesive way to end the story without being completely unsatisfying or saccharine and cliché
There are shining – even glimmering – moments that bookend the beginning and ending of this movie, and it’s a shame the connective tissue is the awkward mess it ended up being. This film shines in its premise, the discussions, and the thought exercises that stem from it – but as a piece of entertainment or even just content, it flatlines.