In our dead-nerve Cuisinart culture, it will be very easy to digest All I See Is You as a GIF-accompanied list of meme-able “can you believe they did that” facts. It is, after all, the movie where Blake Lively, she of Gossip Girl and the ill-fated Preserve lifestyle brand, plays a blind woman who regains her vision; it’s also the movie where Blake Lively goes to a Barcelona sex show and ties up her husband in a failed bit of train-car BDSM. It’s directed by Marc Forster, last seen with 2013’s World War Z and a particularly unloved James Bond entry; it has all the markings of a middlebrow Hollywood contractor grasping at something like “real art.” But to dismiss it as the sum of its parts and the filmographies of its principal players seems, pardon the pun, shortsighted. All I See Is You is weird, but it is emphatically not dumb.
Nor is it boring, but only because of its restless, only occasionally sweaty refusal to be the tasteful issues-driven Sundance-y movie it sounds like on paper. In examining my own reaction to it, I realized that what felt foreign about it wasn’t its many sex scenes or its insane Hitchcock-worthy plot or the continued, inexplicable cognitive dissonance of Lively as a movie star. It’s that it is a small film, focused almost entirely on two characters, and it looks, well, rather expensive. There is at least a healthy cinematography and effects budget; Matthias Koenigswieser’s camera has a habit of soaring up mid-conversation into perfectly composed aerial shots worthy of an Apple TV screensaver, and early in the film scenes often dissolve into shimmering, near-abstract blurs. It caught me off guard a bit to see that kind of cosmetic investment in a story that’s largely internal.
Lively stars as Gina, a woman who lost her eyesight and her parents in a car wreck when she was a child. She’s now living in Bangkok with her husband James (Jason Clarke, currently on a roll as Hollywood’s go-to problematic husband) in a state of near isolation, both as a blind woman and an expat in a foreign land. An early scene of her taking a shower is rendered as Lively alone in a seemingly endless steamy void; sex with James is a kaleidoscopic mishmash of body parts that she has little choice but to remain passive for. James works in insurance and frequently stays out late drinking with his work buddies, but he’s by all appearances devoted to Gina; as her prime mediator with the world, he protects and guides her through life. At one point, James takes Gina to a nightclub to help shake off the heartbreak of their continued inability to conceive a child together. When they are separated, her helpless panic is palpable, as is her dependence on him.
All I See Is You suspects that this is by design, without explicitly saying so. When Gina elects to undergo an experimental procedure to repair the vision in one of her eyes, her world opens up again. She has the bizarre experience of seeing her husband for the first time. (“You’re not how I imagined,” she says with a diplomatic smile.) She also realizes she looks like Lively and starts dressing the part, as well as taking a more active role in her and James’s sex life. Gina wants to take in everything around her, and so do Forster and Koenigswieser, as the film becomes positively drunk on stimuli, from the exuberant color explosion of a flower market, to the LED monitor of a camera display. Koenigsweiser uses POV camerawork judiciously; but often finds more creative ways to convey Gina’s deeply subjective impressions of the world.
The result is something like a Lifetime movie directed by Gaspar Noé, equal parts stylistic audacity and lurid, crackerjack plotting. James, it turns out, realizes that there were some upsides to having a blind wife, particularly when Gina starts to attract the attention of other men. I won’t spoil what happens next, but the script, co-written by Forster and Sean Conway, is subtle and well-observed about the hair-trigger sensitivities of this power dynamic. Gina feels like a very specific woman who is rankled by the newly discovered dullness of her partner in a very specific way. When they travel to Spain to revisit their honeymoon location, they get into a minor argument — he swears he booked the same room they had before, and she knows, sight unseen, that it’s different. The conflict is small but revealing: He’s still feeling unexpectedly exposed by this new pair of eyes in his life; she’s annoyed not only that he doesn’t believe her, but that he might not be as observant as she is, despite years of advantage.
All I See Is You goes to an improbably operatic conclusion that might not work for everyone, but it’s these smaller, interpersonal moments that keep it from being pure camp. Still, as a psychological not-quite thriller, it’s consistently entertaining; as a visual exercise, it’s more adventurous than most would be. And somehow Lively, in the midst of all these high concepts, finally feels like a real person onscreen, with real hunger and perspective.