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Mary-Louise Parker Gets Time to Shine

One of the distinguishing features that has propelled Mary-Louise Parker’s rise through the ranks of stage actors has been a searching quality she brings to plays such as “Proof” and “How I Learned to Drive,” as if there are other worlds beyond where she is immediately stationed and places her characters can’t reach no matter how much they extend themselves. Although Parker’s been great in films and TV, too, she’s hasn’t had the same opportunity onscreen to demonstrate her curiosity about the unknown. That becomes the main attraction of “Omni Loop,” writer-director Bernardo Britto’s melancholy time-travel drama, which stirs the kind of mixed emotions that Parker’s Zoya feels, having a week left to live and the ability to stave off the inevitable with a bottle full of blue pills that take her back five days at a time.

With Parker’s tactile imagination, Britto requires far less to sell audiences on the high concept of his sci-fi film, though he does give Zoya a black hole for a heart that puzzles doctors. Her daughter Jayne (Hannah Pearl Utt) learns the condition is most common among astronauts and those who have been exposed to serious radiation. Though Zoya belongs to neither of those camps, she would like to leave the world she’s in. Life has become all too predictable, stuck in a constant cycle of celebrating her 55th birthday, going to the beach and approving galleys for the physics book she’s written with her husband (Carlos Jacott).

A random change in routine leads her to run into Paula (Ayo Edebiri) after spotting her with one of her books. When it turns out she’s a student of metaphysics, the possibility of having a new sounding board leads Zoya to drop everything she’s learned from spending time with her own family and attempt to take a path that would lead her out of the loop.

It’s best not to think too much about how all this adds up logically when Britto clearly is more interested in emotional implications rather than scientific ones. But the filmmaker opens up a fascinating wormhole when, rather than focusing on chronological concerns, “Omni Loop” considers the attachments Zoya has in her life now, putting her own peace of mind last as she repeatedly makes sure her family is prepared for her death, lest the pills wear off. She’s reminded of what opportunities she had passed up in order to keep what’s in front of her as she thinks back to her college days. When she starts to neglect her family in the present to pursue a potential future, she has to ask herself whether she’s being selfish even if it’s for the greater good. Those concerns are particularly acute when Paula realizes there are notes she left at Princeton which she could use now, and the possibility of traveling north to see an old classmate would mean venturing even further away. 

Zoya and Paula start testing theories at the local community college, but really they test each other, contemplating existential questions for which there are no satisfactory answers. Parker and Edebiri have a lovely rapport, but for those expecting comic sparks to fly based on either Britto’s rollicking first feature “Jacqueline (Argentine)” or the presence of “The Bear” star, “Omni Loop” isn’t what you would think. While the director brings an impressively sensitive touch, the film can feel too mellow at times when the two seem to be talking in circles, en route to a sense of inner peace. 

That sense of tranquility is established more instantly by Britto and a talented crew to consider the big ideas at hand. From the film’s savvy use of Miami’s brutalist architecture to Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s tender and lilting electronic score, the gentle incorporation of slightly surreal elements allow the spotlight to stay on Zoya’s ability to reason things out. Everything leans toward the hopeful notion that she can, given all the human creativity on display as part of the fabric of the film. Time may unravel in “Omni Loop,” but admirably, it opens up the space to think less about the secrets of the larger universe than to take stock of the smaller ones that exist around us.

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