LET THE SUNSHINE IN Review: Looking For Love In All The Wrong Places

Juliette Binoche is wasted on this shallow midlife crisis drama.

Finding love can be hard, particularly if one is struggling to move past the wreckage of a previous relationship. People come in so many dimensions and personalities that finding the right person is a veritable challenge, and the bitter fact of doing so at middle age is that the pool of available candidates is smaller and the avenues for meeting new people are restricted. This is fertile ground into which to plant a film's narrative, so I was optimistic about the chances for director Claire Denis's Let the Sunshine In to do something interesting and insightful with the premise, particularly with an actress as talented as Juliette Binoche in the lead role. Unfortunately the result is more bewildering than it is inspiring, is more aggravating than introspective, and falls tragically short of its narrative goals.

Binoche stars as Isabelle, a woman recently separated from her husband who is in search of a romantic connection. The film opens on her sleeping with a real jerk (Xavier Beauvois) who refuses to leave his wife and insists on treating everyone in accordance to their utility to him, including in how he uses Isabelle for sex when she clearly wants more. Isabelle then moves on to variously have dates and one night stands that embody the varieties of ways that dating can come up short, such as how one party may find their one night stand a regrettable circumstance when she thought they'd forged a real connection, or how a partner may be disinterested in integrating with their lover's circle of friends, drawing his long term commitment to her into question.

In theory, this is a strong basis for a treatise on the difficulties of midlife dating, but the construction of Let the Sunshine In severely undercuts the emotional impact of that message. The men of Isabelle's dating life often appear abruptly, offering no introduction and leaving the audience in the dark as to who they are and why they are here. Isabelle is swept along by chance encounters with men who variously love and use her, but we are never given any sense of who they are beyond their shallow representative function. They are all avatars of abstraction that carry no emotional weight, personified flaws whom Isabelle's attraction to would be baffling for any reason beyond plot convenience.

And maybe that's the point, as Isabelle is supposed to grow from her experiences and learn to allow relationships to flourish organically, but we never get an indication that Isabelle's experiences are at all transformative or even worth commenting on. All credit to Binoche for investing such a flat character with the emotional core to carry her many wistful monologues, but Isabelle is defined almost entirely by her relationships with men. We get very little notion of Isabelle's personality when she isn't pining for another romance or bemoaning the ones she is unwillingly still entangled in. We are to understand that Isabelle is an artist and that she has shared custody of a ten-year-old daughter with her ex-husband, but we rarely get a glimpse at either her artistic creation or her daughter, even as we are exposed to a sexual encounter with that same ex-husband. Again, this may be an intentional expression of how all-consuming Isabelle's loneliness is, but it's a character flaw that Let the Sunshine In seems content to only show us and then offer no further commentary, resulting in a static and frustrating protagonist who commits to a cycle of bad relationships without growing or learning from those experiences.

The film closes out with Isabelle visiting a psychic (Gérard Depardieu), who essentially explains her character arc to her: Isabelle needs to stop actively searching for the right man and let life lead her where it will, and love will follow. Not only does this denouement lazily push an entire film's worth of growth to the final scene, but it also removes any agency Isabelle had in discovering that truth for herself. Much like all things in Isabelle's life, her next step is dictated to her by a man, and the lesson she learns from her experiences is as thin as the credibility of the one who gives it to her. (And I could be wrong, but the psychic seems to imply that he could be that very love interest to be developed after the credits roll, which is eerie and manipulative in ways that far outweigh any of Isabelle's previous lovers with the film offering no ominous indication as such.)

Let the Sunshine In is a terribly frustrating film, built upon a thematically solid foundation before squandering it away on a narrative devoid of progression and a protagonist without agency. There is no insight here, only unnecessary pain.

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