The Netflix original portrays two possible paths in a woman’s life, but the results are disappointing. In Wanuri Kahiu’s “Look Both Ways,” a twentysomething woman faces a pivotal situation that splits her life in two, eventually leading her to a crossroads.
The film combines the conceits of “Sliding Doors” and “For Keeps” into one refurbished product, eschewing fantasy or melodrama in favor of grounded authenticity and levity. Despite the filmmakers’ resonant sentiments on taking risks and embracing fate, their execution of narrative basics is lacking.
Natalie may look like an animated Disney princess, but her life is far from a fairy tale. In five years, the soon-to-be college graduate plans to achieve success. She thought she did, at least. During a rowdy graduation party, she puked her guts out and had sex spontaneously with Gabe after finals, resulting in her taking a pregnancy test.
As she awaits the results, she envisions her life splitting into two, with one version of herself pursuing her well-conceived plan and the other raising an inadvertent child. Natalie and her bestie Cara set a course for Los Angeles to pursue their animation career dreams.
Then Natalie meets Jake, a tall, handsome character designer at the company Natalie’s idol, Lucy, runs. With Jake’s encouragement and tips, Natalie gets a job as Lucy’s assistant. Natalie discovers she’s pregnant, returns home to her shocked parents, and has the baby with Gabe, though she declines his marriage proposal.
Her dreams of drawing are put on hold and her friendships are sacrificed for the sake of motherhood. There are complications in both tracks, which result in a predictable outcome. Kahiu and screenwriter April Prosser don’t give Cara an arc in either timeline, though Natalie does.
Dissatisfaction with her job and friendship with Natalie is given short shrift, as is Cara’s new romantic relationship. Their connective conflicts are rushed and given a hand wave when earned emotion is easily infused. As it stands, the second act is a bit sluggish, wallowing in the protagonist’s stress, sorrow, and failures.
As healthy, supportive influences on Natalie, Gabe and Jake’s journeys are fraught with contrivances and conveniences. There is never a sense of genuine conflict between Gabe and Natalie that does not involve their romantic relationship. A diaper blowout is not adversity. Natalie being the stereotypical commitment-phobe rather than the guy does not help her agency.
The two stories suggest that Natalie’s happiness depends on a man returning to her life to complete her dream and teach her that no matter what she does, she’ll be okay. Narratively, the feature falters, but technically it excels.
Kahiu and her collaborators give each timeline its look. Filmmaker Alan Caudillo and production designer Keith Brian Burns contrast Natalie’s worlds with warm sunset hues in Los Angeles and a cool blue-gray palette in Austin. We can determine which Natalie we’re watching by her wardrobe: pink and purple in SoCal, blue in Texas.
Drum & Lace and Ian Hultquist’s subtle synth score enhances the mood and adds character to scenes through its emotional underpinning. Reinhart’s performance is tender, sweet, and meaningful. She adapts nimbly to both light and dark tones. She has a strong screen presence alone or paired with multi-faceted actresses like Long and Savage.
Long lends depth and dimension to what would be a generic, thankless role in anyone else’s hands. As a comedic uptick, Savage combines lighthearted wit with stirring wisdom. Two diverse renditions of Fun’s “We Are Young” bookend the film and bring us back to the beginning of our journey. In the song, romanticism and blitheness are emphasized. There is, however, no hook in the feature it resides in.
Dakota Cameron is a seasoned web content writer and covers the Hollywood movies for the MovieThop Website
Ms. Cameron began his professional life as a freelance blogger. Later, he worked for Witbe as a content writer for two years. His interests include blogging, reading, movies and travel.
Ms. Cameron graduated in Journalism and Mass Communication from University State of Georgia University. He is fluent in French, Spanish, and other languages.