Colin Thompson’s Light Years is the latest film to grace an unfortunately budding catalogue of pointless, rudderless cinematic enigmas that seem to exist for… well, who’s to say? You don’t have to venture beyond the parameters of 2020 to find plenty of its fellow catalogue mates on the year’s fleeting and limited release calendar: try Fatman on for size, and you’ll be graced with a “plot” focused on Mel Gibson’s disconsolate Santa and his survival efforts. Give All the Bright Places a stream and enjoy a hearty cup of depressing teen angst for… again, I’m not sure the reason. Light Years, a film notably produced for a fraction of the budget of those previous offerings, seems to have been written between bong rips and edited through the blur of drunk goggles. It’s quite likely that such an impression is entirely intentional.
Following Kevin (played in present day by Thomspon, who is also the film’s writer and director, and as a teen by Christopher Gray), Light Years unfolds over the course of one night. Well, sort of. More accurately, it’s one long memory of one night in which Kevin ventures on a cosmic journey to visit his dead pal Briggs (Russell Posner) on the anniversary of his demise. Present day, 30-something Kevin takes some shrooms (“I’m gonna spike my brain with mushrooms, you know, remember to listen to and smell the earth,” he tells his sister, Em, over the phone at the beginning of the film), trips, and amid his psychedelia, finds that everyone in his memory — aside from Briggs and teenage Em (Makenzie Leigh) — has his body and face. Somewhere along the way, I guess he smells the Earth.
If that sounds like your thing, then strap in for the least consequential ride you’ll ever board and brace yourself for a nonsensical trip with both substance and heart too limited in scope to even bother sinking your teeth into. Other than kissing 80 minutes and the rental price of $2.99 goodbye, your viewing experience may feel akin to what I imagine gas station bathroom LSD might cause the brain to endure.
And that’s not to condemn the idea of drug-laden visual journeys in film, as works like Gaspar Noé’s Climax and just about anything Terry Gilliam has touched since the dawn of man, intentional or not, have been at the very least artful and intriguing enough. But the case against Light Years isn’t that it’s just of poor quality. It’s that it takes aim at something great and attainable, only to misfire to the extreme, alternately unfolding like the longest inadvertent D.A.R.E. PSA ever made.
What could have existed in deep, criminally underseen indie lore as a cross-blend of Dazed and Confused, American Pie, and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure instead reduces itself to marginal storytelling that distracts itself with an onslaught from an editor whose image library seems to consist primarily of baffling cutout images of dogs and eyeballs, both of which crowd the screen at one (or 40) too many turns. Perhaps there’s something redeeming about the somewhat touching, brotherly relationship between Kevin and Briggs, and perhaps their quirks and unmatched originality are meant to be appreciated. I’ll have to get back to you when the headache wears off.
Remember: there’s snappy and creative editing, and then there’s a class Photoshop assignment started and completed an hour before it’s due. The former is what you often find as a welcome surprise within micro budget features from upstart directors, along with clever storytelling (take Cooper Raiff’s gem Shithouse from just this year as a prime example). The latter is what you find here, a chintzy job that feels thrown together more than it is pieced. Some scenes might actually carry some weight if they weren’t tinged with an effect that makes them look like they were captured on a cassette tape with a reel that got tangled in the stereo.
Perhaps this critic’s lack of experience in the realm in which shrooms thrive the most serves as a detriment to my overall viewing experience. Though isn’t that, in a way, a referendum on the film’s overall merit and quality? Also worth remembering: there’s marketing to a specific crowd, and then there’s alienating another bulk of possible viewers. For anyone who finds themselves inspired by the film’s quintessential messages of “Being a dude is so hard” and “Enough dicks,” this might be your Citizen Kane (better yet, your Rosebud). For anyone else, it’s something else to scroll past in your endless Friday night search for a movie to check out.
To his credit, Thompson is an intriguing enough screen presence who feels destined to achieve T.J. Miller-esque stardom in a very cultish way, the kind of performer whose peculiarities would curry favor with select populations whose very existences are dependent on vibe, (dude). He has a natural way about him, as if to watch him act is to watch him behave. But even he sometimes takes things a bit too off course for his own good. Nevertheless, he’s at least a welcome surprise in a film that only has one other: that Channing Tatum is a producer.
But as a filmmaker, Thompson’s direction seems to lead down a path towards a pile of stray what-ifs and misguided ingenuity. He has ideas, to be clear, and plenty of spirit about the bonds between friends and what brings people — capital B Bros, in particular — together at an early age. But between the disorientation and the half-baked comedy lies a nothingness of a film, a heavily confusing and relatively plotless journey that leaves us mulling whether or not peering into the mind of someone tripping is entertaining or worthwhile.