The first fifteen minutes of The Discovery start off solid, sparked by playful banter between Jason Segel and Rooney Mara. But after those fifteen minutes pass, you wish to god they’d do anything to do break the tension in this melodramatic, charcoal grey film. Even with a philosophically-intriguing premise, The Discovery fails to float, muddling in its own sea of melancholy and philosophical “what ifs” whose ultimate answers are never truly satisfying.
To be fair, its hard to make light out of the serious premise that propels The Discovery. The discovery in question is that there is now proof of an afterlife, which has caused hordes of people to commit suicide in order to reach it. Trying to lighten up the mood where millions of people have committed suicide is difficult. But goddamn, if one of the themes of the movie is that we should make the most of life, shouldn’t the movie itself try to make itself enjoyable?
This lack of energy and enthusiasm almost seems paradoxical with the talented cast at the heart of the film. Jason Segel, Rooney Mara and Robert Redford lead the show, with Breaking Bad’s Jesse Plemons and The Girlfriend Experiment’s Riley Keough pitching in from the sidelines. Despite the earnestness of the performers, their characters are stale and one-note, never evolving beyond a brief description you might read on the film’s IMDb or Wikipedia page. Jason Segel is SKEPTICAL but WILLING TO BELIEVE. Rooney Mara is DISTANCED but WANTING TO MAKE A CONNECTION. Robert Redford is a STOIC LEADER but still just an ORDINARY MAN. Segel’s interactions with his brother, played by Plemons, are hilariously repetitive and inauthentic. “Hey brother! Remember how dad is using his study of the afterlife as a way of coping with regret?” “Yes brother I remember, it’s only the third time you’ve mentioned it today!”
Regret is a key theme of the movie too, with characters questioning what they would do differently if they had another chance. If I were the director and screenwriter of The Discovery and had the opportunity to do this all over again, I’d keep all of the same cast but actually inject them with some emotion, note to my music supervisor that just because the score has string instruments doesn’t automatically make my movie profound or intelligent, and gently remind my cinematographer that this isn’t a DC comic film and not everything has to be painted in boring coats of grey.
Give director Charlie McDowell another chance by watching his The One I Love, a much more satisfying film that successfully takes a big WHAT IF premise and sees it through. And give Jason Segel another chance too at non-comedic roles, as his take on the tortured, brilliant novelist David Foster Wallace in The End of the Tour was one of the most powerful performances of 2015. But you’ll feel no regret by leaving “The Discovery” hidden in the corners of your Netflix queue.