Jaron Albertin’s Weightless is so intent on avoiding the maudlin clichés that afflict so many films about an irresponsible man suddenly becoming the caregiver of a child that it passes by as a series of brief, muted interactions between cyphers. Joel (Alessandro Nivola), a recluse with a history of mental health issues, is one day forced to take in his estranged son, Will (Eli Haley), after the boy’s mother vanishes. Throughout the film, Albertin casually reveals the facets of his main characters’ lives, like Joel’s mental issues and Will’s diabetes, but does so in such a programmatic fashion that it’s as if the father and son are being given quirks rather than individuality.
Because Alberin and screenwriter Enda Walsh are so vague about Joel and Will’s personalities, there’s no dimension to the scenes meant to depict their ostensibly growing relationship, as in the incessant shots of them sitting across from each other. Only one scene, in which Joel, showing a loose grip on rationality, drag-races his car while Will rides shotgun, successfully conveys their improving father-son bond: Albertin keeps the focus on their faces as they excitedly scream, capturing every moment of their shared thrill ride. It’s also the rare scene in Weightless that’s unburdened from the funereal-like glumness that’s otherwise the film’s default mode.
The film has its share of haunting images, but to what end? One notable long take sees Joel stop his car so that he can pee by the side of the road. He then wanders into a cornfield, if only for the filmmakers to underline the obvious: that this man is defined by his isolation. Even a startling cut from Will watching a bird in the sky to the literal bird’s-eye view looking back down on Will feels unfortunately on the nose. Such moments prove that the title Weightless is an apt description for this stylish but emotionally inert film.