ANYA could have been a simple love story. But this love story packs an emotional punch with the help of science.
ANYA is the first narrative feature from award-winning documentarians Jacob Akira Okada and Carylanna Taylor.
Their earlier endeavor, Painting the Way to the Moon, featured mathematician and artist Ed Belbruno and his discovery of a new way to space travel.
Given their love of science, it shouldn't be a surprise that their first feature explores science enveloped in a lovely romance.
Most couples meet, fall in love, get married, and begin their families. That's what Libby (Ali Ahn) and Marco (Gil Perez-Abraham) believe, too.
But unbeknownst to Libby, Marco is hiding a secret about his heritage that gets unearthed after Libby suffered several miscarriages.
Her obsession with discovering a pattern to their disappointment finally prompts Marco to reveal his secret: because he dared to leave his tight-knit immigrant community behind, he carries a curse that will keep them from successfully reproducing.
What results is a delightful exploration of heritage and genetics.
In the 21st Century, infertility isn't always the end of the road. Libby has a friend in the scientific community, Dr. Seymour Livingston (Motell Gyn Foster), and she turns to him for help.
At first, Libby wants Seymour to placate Marco, to use his scientific credibility to squash the notion that Marco is cursed.
But Seymour is a scientist of the highest order. His passion is genetics, and his research into Neandertals unexpectedly produces results that surprise them all.
Marco is an unknown subspecies of Homo Sapiens, and a slight distinction destroys his attempts to reproduce outside of his community.
It's not his actions or folklore that have him cursed, but the very fiber of his being.
If science discovered your genetic anomalies have far more significant consequences than you expected, would you still have the drive to bring a child into the world?
Worlds collide when Libby and Seymour want Marco to share his past with them with the hope that more scientific investigation could lead to a solution not only for Marco and Libby and their desire to start a family but for his entire community.
Romance, culture, and science are intertwined as Seymour realizes that gene-editing could be the answer Marco and his community need to lead fulfilling lives that can expand their otherwise small existence far beyond the immigrant community they've created in Brooklyn.
For filmmakers known for their documentary, they've crafted a beautiful and relatable romance. Their characters show their love; there isn't a need for exposition or overdrawn scenes because every act between Libby and Marco proves their affection and deepening connection.
The scientific aspect provides an almost sci-fi feel to the film, but everything is rooted in science. It's fiction, and it's science, but the possibilities are real.
Eva Amsen of Forbes spoke with the film's scientific advisor, molecular biologist Ruth McCole who was working in a Harvard lab at the time.
Not just advising the film, she even wrote a scene in which two scientists discuss an experiment.
Even the lab scenes are far more than a Hollywood concoction; they were filmed in a real lab at Carnegie Mellon University. It's clear that Okada and Taylor wanted ANYA buffered with realism, and the understated lab offers a more natural experience than the more elaborate sets often portrayed.
Libby's interest in Marco's Narval heritage of a people who migrated from a remote (fictional) Caribbean island leads her to a treasured relationship with Marco's mother (Ana Maria Jomolca). That's when science and romance take a backseat to customs with which Libby is unfamiliar but eager to accept as her own.
The cast is highly diverse and quite talented. Ahn is instantly recognizable from her myriad roles on TV shows including Netflix's Raising Dion, Supernatural, Showtime's Billions, and Hulu's The Path.
Perez-Abraham has appeared on Madam Secretary, Law & Order: SVU, and Pose while Jomolca has credits including The Family, Daredevil, and Law & Order.
All three aforementioned actors share credits on Orange Is the New Black.
Foster offers a standout performance as Seymour and manages to steal many scenes throughout the film. With the smallest resume to date, Foster, who has appeared in Blue Bloods and Netflix's Wu-Tang: An American Saga, will be one to watch.
He has the impossible job of making a die-hard science nerd into a fascinating human being and hits all the right notes.
ANYA successfully blends science, love, and culture in a unique film experience that is well worth your time.
With a first narrative feature this compelling, it will be quite interesting to see what Okada and Taylor do next.
ANYA will be available November 26 on iTunes/AppleTV, Amazon, Google Play, Vimeo, Vudu, Xbox & DVD.
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Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.