All the Light in the Sky (2012)

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This greatly benefits from Swanberg turning his lens on older, more seasoned actors. Jane Adams is deservedly front and centre and the film feels like her property. Like Adams, her character is a mature character actress trying to navigate a career in an industry obsessed with youth and vanity, a conflict which gains more clarity with the arrival of her younger niece (Sophia Takal) who is also a budding actress. It’s one of Swanberg’s sweetest films, mainly compromised of frank, sincere conversations between actors clearly comfortable with one another.

They bring out the best in Swanberg; the relaxed nature of their conversations rarely bubble over into hot-headed contention and remain breezy and pleasurable, if occasionally sad. Adams takes on a maternal openness in her scenes with Takal and where most filmmakers would be tempted to uproot their relationship with jealously and contempt for the sake of drama, Swanberg wisely goes in another direction. Their relationship becomes more about support than rivalry but it never makes a point to underline that fact.

Larry Fessenden turns in a lovely, gimmick-free performance too (though he does find room for an entertaining Jack Nicholson impersonation) showing that he can be a massively appealing on-screen presence outside of genre. Between Fessenden and Adams in here and Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde in Drinking Buddies, Swanberg clearly found his groove mining the will they/won’t they cliches of romantic comedies (and Paul Mazursky movies) and instilling them into his own, understated filmmaking playbook. The results are delightful as both these films sit among his best. They glow with a warmth and kindness many of his earlier, more insidious works try so hard to obscure. You enjoy being in their company, which can’t be said for the majority of Swanberg’s legendary 2011 run.

As the title suggests, All the Light in the Sky is an optimistic, glass half-full movie, certainly one of Swanberg’s most tender. The empathy for the characters feels like a breakthrough for him and the simplicity in the filmmaking puts the interplay of his actors in the driving seat. The self-lensed digital cinematography may be Swanberg’s finest hour as DOP too. A Swanberg movie for those who hate Swanberg movies.

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