Drake Doremus Puts His Forbidden-Love Jones to the Test With Equals

Drake Doremus has carved out quite the niche when it comes to unrequited or forbidden love.

In Spooner, the 2009 dramedy that put the Santa Ana-born-and-raised filmmaker on the media’s radar after acceptance to Slamdance, a 30-year-old guy who avoided growing up tries to grow up in a hurry when he finds love, but he arrives too late. A year later came Doremus’ Sundance darling Douchebag, which centered on a douchy guy seeking to be less so to win the love of his estranged little brother, at the expense of his neglected fiancĂ©e.

A year after that came Like Crazy, which won the 2011 Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and concerned a young American man and his new British love whose relationship is tested by immigration law, which ultimately keeps them apart. Doremus directed three of the six episodes of the 2012 video miniseries The Beauty Inside, which was about a man who wakes up every day as the same person inside but a different person outside, so he sees the woman he loves every day and she does not see him. In 2013’s Breathe In, Doremus follows a married man of 30 years tempted by a beautiful British exchange student who is about the same age as his daughter.

One might accuse the 33-year-old writer/director of metaphorically lighting a match inside moviegoers, adding the matchbook cover to really get the flame going and, just when they can’t take their eyes off the inferno, perversely blowing it out. Another possibility is Doremus can’t shake his own fascination with impossible love and must make that love ever more impossible to achieve with each film. If so, he really put himself to the test with Equals, which opens in theaters Friday. It’s about a beautiful young couple falling in love in a situation that forbids love.

Nia (Kristen Stewart) and Silas (Nicholas Hoult) work together in a futuristic society known as “The Collective.” At first, it seems utopian, as crime and violence have been wiped out and everyone wears similar white outfits so there’s no more fretting over what to wear after getting out of your Spacely Sprockets shower.

But the reason for this nearly perfect society is crime and violence have been genetically eliminated from human emotions. So has love. That is, they are gone unless a mysterious virus known as Switched On Syndrome infects you. Show any signs that you are suffering from full-blown S.O.S., and you’ll be sent for a radical treatment that renders you an emotion-free fleshy robot again.

As Silas, Hoult (of Mad Max: Fury Road and the X-Men franchise fame) seems to channel his inner Real Doll right from the get-go. He follows a mind-numbing daily routine with barely a hint of emotion. What ultimately gives him away (to the viewer) are the sly glances this illustrator aims at writer co-worker Nia.

Equals is the perfect vehicle for Stewart, who has been accused of lacking emotional depth and acting by simply employing a small set of different blank stares. But her Nia, against Silas’ stiff Hymie the Robot, is our strongest cue that something brews between these two forbidden lovebirds.

Just about the time their passions hit 11, their superiors become suspicious, forcing Nia and Silas to decide between staying apart within the Collective or staying together by making a forbidden trek away from it.

Doremus, who wrote the story that led to the screenplay by Nathan Parker (writer of the underappreciated Moon), has a couple of veteran actors playing infected folks who help Nia and Silas avoid detection: two-time Oscar nominee Jacki Weaver and Guy Pearce, the aforementioned straying father in Breathe In. Each give gravitas and believability to a far-out project that sorely needs it. Having Ridley Scott among the many producers of Equals probably didn’t hurt getting this sucker made either.

My problem with the film is the same one I have with nearly every futuristic sci-fi flick: very bright lighting, something just short of sharp focus, antiseptic sets and new-fashioned surroundings (Equals was shot in Japan and Singapore to take advantage of ultramodern architecture). These give me an immediate bout of Sleep On Syndrome.

No one wants to be overcome by an immediate yearning to crash in the middle of a love story, even the most impossible ones.

Equals was directed by Drake Doremus; written by Nathan Parker (from a story by Doremus); and stars Kristen Stewart, Nicholas Hoult, Guy Pearce and Jacki Weaver.

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