When you’ve lived most of your days sans the gift of sight, waking up one morning to suddenly find that you can see would probably throw you into a real anxiety spiral. It might even lead you to question existence as you’ve known it for years and change—maybe even transform you into an insufferable asshole. Such is the stuff of Ido Fluk’s The Ticket, a loosely structured, dreamlike joint about James (Dan Stevens), a blind man who goes from being visually impaired to morally impaired in the passage of one sleep cycle.
James, we’re told, has been blind been since his youth. He’s married to Sam (Malin Akerman), his devoted wife; the film opens on a darkened montage overlaid with hushed sweet nothings passed between them, a sequence whose evocative affection makes up for what it naturally lacks in imagery. They have a young son, Jonah (Skylar Gaertner), and together they share in idyllic domestic bliss, a bubble of tender, normalizing love where James’s impediment scarcely registers as such. Beyond that, we don’t get to know James for very long before he’s struck by a miracle: The tumor squeezing his optic nerves since his boyhood has shrunk sans medical intervention or treatment. All of a sudden, without warning or incident, he can see Sam, see Jonah, see his desk at work, see where he cold calls people for a real estate telemarketing company.
Fluk doesn’t waste any time setting James on a downward spiral spurred by the drudgery of his job: Hooking potential clients over the phone is utter toil, and James rapidly grows discontented by his gig almost as soon as he sees what’s become of him as a professional adult. Able to stomach his routine no longer, James becomes a shark, chewing his way through the corporate ladder on his way to a promotion and to bigger, better things within his career. He becomes the ultimate American go-getter, in other words, which is to say that he becomes a narcissistic prick, abandoning his family in exchange for a fling with his comely co-worker, Jessica (Kerry Bishé), spurning his friend and comrade in blindness, Bob (Oliver Platt), and generally acting like a total douchebag in the grand and longstanding tradition of male entitlement.
To a point, we’re meant to sympathize with James as he lashes out at a world once familiar, now foreign by dint of inexplicable coincidence. No sooner does he regain one of his five senses than he loses his sense, imagining, for example, that Sam only ever married him out of pity, that their matrimony is built on her devious need to control him. Neither Fluk nor The Ticket ever attempt to validate James’s paranoia, of course, because paranoia is all it is, the implication being that profound life changes can knock a person for the loop, even when those changes happen to be positive. (Ostensibly positive, anyways. Bob first feels mild resentment toward James, offense second as James talks at Bob with a deficit of sensitivity, sniping at his blindness as though he’s forgotten that he was blind himself only weeks prior.) They can even turn you into a toxic creep.
But Fluk never arrives at a satisfactory or declarative conclusion to his thesis. Superficiality is learned rather than instinctual, he seems to be saying, but instead of properly paying off James’s arc, in which decency is decayed by wanton selfishness, The Ticket invokes the spiritual as its through line. The film’s title alludes to a joke James warps his sales pitches around, about a man who prays to God to win the lottery but never bothers to buy himself a (wait for it) ticket: As James’ life crumbles around him, and as we hear this joke told either directly or in voiceover, we gradually wonder if his ruin is a divine punishment for his trespasses. (If so, unpacking his downfall gets uncomfortable real fast. Is the implication that only upright, godly types deserve to see? This probably isn’t Fluk’s intention, but it’s disturbing to consider as a possibility.)
The trouble is that The Ticket tries too hard. As long as the film maintains its free-flow narrative approach, drifting from one moment to the next without hardly marking the passage of time as James’s awareness of and perspectives on his surroundings shift, it works. Whenever Fluk dives into the specifics of James’s career, it gums up. Worse than that, it trends toward the conventional. Watching James’s anxiety ratchet in circumstances that most of us would probably identify as “good” is interesting, but listening to him plot a debt forgiveness scam to prey on the poor is tiresome, even painful at times. (There is nothing cinematic about listening to Matthew Crawley preach about bullshit poverty myths.) We don’t need to see this once, much less twice, and it’s ultimately disappointing that the character James becomes as Fluk lets his story unfold winds up being a tired cliché.
Still, there’s promise here, and a strong central performance by Stevens, whose casting may be the best choice made in The Ticket’s construction. Stevens has cultivated a benevolent actor persona through his most well-known roles, notably on Downton Abbey and recently in Beauty and the Beast, and Fluk takes full advantage of pop culture’s consensus on his goodness by corrupting it. He topples from grace with breathtaking velocity, captured beautifully by Zack Galler’s easy, expressive cinematography, rueful and repellent in near-equal measure. It’s enough to sustain The Ticket as entertainment, but not enough to whitewash its various shortcomings as a statement piece about America’s obsession with shallowness.
Director: Ido Fluk
Writer: Ido Fluk, Sharon Mashihi
Starring: Dan Stevens, Malin Akerman, Oliver Platt, Kerry Bishé, Skylar Gaertner
Release Date: April 7, 2017
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing about film and television online since 2009, and has been contributing to Paste Magazine since 2013. He writes additional words for The Playlist and Birth. Movies. Death., and is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and the Boston Online Film Critics Association. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected writing at his personal blog. He is composed of roughly 65% craft beer.