Heady Sci-fi: Our Review Of ‘Clara’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - November 30, 2018
Heady Sci-fi: Our Review Of ‘Clara’

The films that hit me the hardest rock me to my very core. They change my understanding of the world and affect how I navigate life. And the magic of cinema is that there are countless ways for this art form to leave its mark on you. I’m almost moved to tears by the sumptuous visuals in a Terrence Malick movies, even when his plots don’t make a lick of sense to me. Watching Christopher Nolan’s work makes my heart feel like its pumping rocket-fuel. No one does a thrilling, big budget, masterfully crafted epic, like Nolan. But his films are all left brain and exude the personality, charm, and emotional warmth of two Terminators f#<king. Which brings me to director Akash Sherman’s sci-fi drama, Clara.

Sherman makes no pretense about his movie’s goal. Clara asks us to ponder life’s big questions; the nature of existence, our purpose, our need to connect with others. This film is custom-tailored to elicit a profound reaction from the audience and to do so it takes turns favouring your heart and your mind.


Dr. Isaac Bruno (Patrick J. Adams) is an astronomer who is obsessed with his work. His all-consuming quest to discover signs of extra-terrestrial life alienates friends, costs him his job and practically turns him into The Grinch. But Isaac won’t let a setback like losing his job and access to millions of dollars worth of equipment stop him. He starts working from home and seeks out an unpaid assistant. That’s when a free-spirited young woman named Clara (Troian Bellisario) shows up at his doorstep. Clara may not know about astrophysics, but the kid has got moxie, and Isaac, with no better option, takes her under his wing. Before long, they’re scanning the cosmos like The Enterprise’s bridge crew, while also dealing with their complicated living arrangement. Isaac, the workaholic with his head in the stars, must learn to appreciate the wonders closer to home before they slip away.

The biggest issue with this picture isn’t unique to Clara, it’s a problem that plagues many beloved films. There is a glaring imbalance between the male and female lead characters. Go back and watch Pretty Woman and then tell me what’s appealing about Richard Gere’s character aside from his money? Clara fits the manic-pixie-dream-girl trope to a tee. She’s charming, whimsical, and attractive and flutters into Isaac’s life at a point when he needs her the most. Clara doesn’t feel like a three-dimensional character so much as an object there to fit the plot’s needs. She’s less a person than a Stepford Wife programmed to drag her male counterpart out of his comfort zone and set him on his journey.

Isaac is a dick who bulldozes his way through the story, betraying the people he loves on his perceived path to greatness. Clara just takes his shit because, well, she’s quirky? Short of being a legitimate saint, there is no reason for anyone to endure someone as selfish and abrasive as Isaac. What Clara needs is an intervention. This shallow implementation of the female lead is the Clara’s sore-spot, and it’s strange that a filmmaker as skilled as Sherman didn’t do more to level this one-sided relationship.


Issues with the script aside, Sherman gets solid performances out of his cast. Adams and Bellisario play well off each other, and you understand how Clara could melt crotchety-old Isaac’s heart. Ennis Esmer’s fast-talking best friend, Dr. Charlie Durant, shines every second he’s onscreen. He comes through with a warmth and charisma that’s sorely lacking in his friend. Charlie represents the kind of well-adjusted family man Isaac would be if the world hadn’t ground his heart to dust.

It’s unforgivable that Clara, a character so integral to driving the story, feels so underserved. That’s a huge structural problem that I can’t look past. And it’s getting harder for me to sit through stories about miserable men who bludgeon their way to success through sheer force of will. And while I’m at it, some of the film’s dialogue is too on the nose.

But Sherman knows how to stick the landing, and he comes through with a rousing conclusion that speaks to a longing we all feel as humans. The film goes bold with breath-taking cosmic visuals and a climactic revelation that asks us to consider the infinite, but not before looking inward. On paper, there are plenty of reasons for me to dislike this movie. But we don’t experience movies on paper. We experience them in our minds and in our hearts, and if we’re fortunate enough, while sitting next to friends.

This post was written by
Victor Stiff is a Toronto-based freelance writer and pop culture curator. Victor currently contributes insights, criticisms, and reviews to several online publications where he has extended coverage to the Toronto International Film Festival, Hot Docs, Toronto After Dark, Toronto ComiCon, and Fan Expo Canada. Victor has a soft spot in his heart for Tim Burton movies and his two poorly behaved beagles (but not in that order).
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