Throughout Comet, Dell (Justin Long) references dreams consisting of conversations from the past with his significant other, Kimberly (Emmy Rossum), an idea summarizing the structure of Sam Esmail’s film. Owing considerable debt to the ultimate rom-com, Annie Hall, Comet skips back and forth through time chronicling this couple’s on-again, off-again relationship, from its quirky inception to its melancholic conclusion, with several key turning points devoted to the love affair’s elongated middle act. This scattered construction, however, doesn’t eschew a traditional romantic arc, making it clear that each moment in this couple’s downward trajectory can be traced to the one before it. Instead, the time-jumping strategy cleverly illuminates the way in which we go over and fixate on isolated incidents in our minds of breakups past.
Communicating at the speed of light in pop-culture-infused byplay, the central couple suggests Mark Zuckerberg and Erica Albrecht from The Social Network actually trying to carry out a long-term romance. Dell spends much of the film hoping to win or re-win Kimberly’s affection, leaving her in the position of always having to react, yet her character grows exponentially in comparison to Dell, even if she doesn’t exactly grow up. The introductory scenes find her consumed by winsome curiousness, though by the time of their breakup she’s smoking cigarettes and speaking with a quiet acerbity, as if she’s become weary of her spasmodic boyfriend’s confrontational conversation style. He’s too far inside his own head to see where it’s gone wrong, whereas she’s able to step back and demonstrate a sense of perspective.
The story purports to take place “a few parallel universes over” from ours; the characters’ occasional metaphysical dialogue suggests that what we’re witnessing might be a blend of real life; and the characters’ fantasies and their initial meet cute in the midst of a meteor shower implies their romantic fate might be written in the stars. But midway through the film, it flashes back to a moment in the wake of the couple’s first breakup wherein they randomly meet on the same train ride, as if by whimsical happenstance, before Dell finally confesses that he actively followed her to plead for one more chance. In other words, there’s nothing celestial about it, just earthly yearning for what was lost. Nothing else writes their fate; only they do.