I've been through a long dry stretch when it comes to movies. I've seen damn few (nothing has come to town and we've bled the video store almost dry) and liked virtually none in the past several months. I (Heart) Huckabees was inoffensive fluff; Sideways (despite the presence of fellow Yalie Paul Giamatti [PC '89]) grows more disappointing each time I think about it; Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and Elektra were simply acts of desperation.
Thus, it may be that my enthusiasm for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is inflated by my sheer relief at finding an even half-decent movie. With that caveat, though, I found Eternal Sunshine to be delightful. By turns bizarre, creepy, funny, and tender, the movie weaves an improbably moving love story out of what should be (and was) a cheesy sci-fi premise: the perfection of selective memory erasure ("Technically, what we're doing is brain damage," says the reassuring doctor, "but it's on a par with a night of heavy drinking."). Anja Rau sums up the movie's accomplishment nicely:
Sunshine zooms in on the dynamics of a love affair: the good things you do and the bad. The stuff you're so ashamed of afterwards and the stuff that makes you cringe while you do it but appears entirely sweet on hindsight. The delicate, half-forgotten first steps and the agonizing fights, till you break up. And then, when the passion simply won't stop, the moment when you download all your pain and frustration on each other, all the "what I always hated about you"s, and the first, tentative steps when both decide to reach over the rubble and maybe try again.
Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) has a unique ability to construct strange, convoluted plots without losing sight of the basic humanity of his characters. I can imagine any number of ways this film could have been awful — maudlin, pretentious, confused, silly — and yet, amazingly, it stays afloat and makes it to the end without ever missing a beat. Very nice.
Update (5/17): Adam Cadre has a good review of Sunshine and why it works over at Calendar.