For a film that starts off with a breakup, “Light Years” is unusually romantic, to the extent that one would assume that’s opening shot of the galaxy isn’t as much about its central, ambivalent 20-something (Chris Lowell) finding his place in it as establishing the far off universe where it takes place.
This may not sound like a compliment to co-writer/director Maggie Kiley, but in fact, it’s the opposite since she has done something refreshing in her first feature by transporting audiences to a New York free of cynicism and full of opportunities. Too many in fact for her unnamed central character, who is resistant to getting over his longtime girlfriend Charlotte (Rose McIver), who was so eager to say goodbye that she rented out their apartment to another couple without letting him know. That he continues to stay with Ray and Lita (Alex Kaluzhsky and Jessica Szohr, respectively), the strangers who take up residence in her wake and that Lita even finds him a corner office job where the boss, her father (Clark Gregg) tells him on his first day, “the less you do, the better” suggests a charmed life when in actuality the comfort is preventing him from taking on the responsibilities that would enable him to grow.
Although this may sound like the premise of every indie film ever, not helped by the first impression of a lilywhite cast with perfectly coiffed hair, “Light Years” quietly upends expectations as its lead continues not to meet any of his own. Early scenes take on a second meaning as the film wears on, pulling off its mask as a movie about a relationship gone bad to reveal a character study about a young man paralyzed by indecision, emphasized by some subtly affecting work by cinematographer Chayse Irvin, who is often bringing things into focus from some carefully picked angles.
The subtlety has its drawbacks since after an introduction where the film jumps back and forth in time, “Light Years” does little to distinguish the past from the present, which becomes an issue when Charlotte reenters the man’s life. But it also allows each of the characters to carry equal weight as the lead who, as played by Lowell with the same foppish charm he exhibited as Piz in “Veronica Mars,” can be engaging while not actually being fully formed. Instead, you really feel as though every person he comes into contact with actually makes an impression upon him, from Szohr’s Lita who unwittingly enables him with her unflagging support to Charlotte who want him to be someone like her WASP parents while not wanting that for herself.
There are greater stakes to be mined that the territory Kiley and company cover here, but by keeping the tone light, the film proves buoyant. As it turns out, “Light Years” winds up being about the beginning of something rather than the end, for both its characters and its director who is off to a promising start.