Though on the surface, Sam Esmail’s directorial debut Comet seems to be subverting the romantic comedy genre, implementing a surrealistic, science fiction element to combat the usual tropes – what transpires is a tedious, contrived and conventional offering that persistently undermines its own innovation with its cliched, mawkish tendencies.

The lovers in question are Dell (Justin Long) and Kimberly (Emmy Rossum), who meet at a meteor shower in LA, to embark on a relationship that we see unravel across the course of six years, moving seamlessly between different stages of their tempestuous, volatile romance. This cosmic love story provides a broad portrait of the modern relationship – without ever feeling relevant, or naturalistic at all.

It’s such a struggle to invest in the core relationship of this tale, given the wildly unnatural dialogue implemented throughout. Of course given the surrealistic edge, and supposed enchantment on show, it does give Esmail the creative license to offer a heightened take on reality, but it seeks only in preventing the viewer from believing in the romance at hand, which, given the nature of this picture, is something of a problem. It’s all so forced, especially with the consistent use of intellectual cultural references, with Dell in particular referring to various authors. It’s not how people genuinely speak, and stinks of a filmmaker desperate to let us know of his own idiosyncratic taste in pop culture. Tarantino is a serial offender in that department, except he has the quality in the screenplay to back it up. Plus, it’s usually really cool soul music that he likes to show off about, so he’s let off the hook somewhat.

What also doesn’t help the viewer adhere to this narrative, is the difficulty in actually endearing yourself to these characters, and getting behind them. They’re both so difficult to like, and seemingly incompatible as a pair too. He’s a narcissistic, frenetic know-it-all and she’s an idiot for falling in love with a narcissistic, frenetic know-it-all. It becomes a struggle to empathise with either’s respective, romantic journeys, and there just isn’t the chemistry there either to make up for it. The performances are mediocre too, though in their defence, the actors are working with a lacklustre screenplay. Perhaps more comically inclined performers would provide a saving grace and inject some much needed humour into proceedings, as roles that could have been ideal for the likes of David Schwimmer and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

Comet is a stylistically contrived, all-too-clever rom-com that is let down by its own ambition. The need to be different and breath new life into this genre is essential, but Esmail seems far too concerned with being creative that he loses sight of what is truly important; the characters.