Boredom. Annoyance. Anger.
I experienced a range of emotions and perfected my eye roll while watching Endings, Beginnings, the new movie from director and writer Drake Doremus (Like Crazy).
An exercise in extreme navel-gazing, the movie follows thirtysomething Daphne (Shailene Woodley) during a transformative year of her life after she breaks up with her long-term boyfriend, Adrian (Matthew Gray Gubler), and inexplicably quits her job. She moves into her sister’s pool house and proceeds to smoke. A lot.
Her friend, Ingrid (Kyra Sedgwick), suggests a six-month break from dating. That doesn’t last long as Daphne quickly finds herself in a love triangle with best friends Jack (Jamie Dornan) and Frank (Sebastian Stan). How nice to have Christian Grey and the Winter Soldier vying for your affection, but, oh my, do they look alike. (Daphne definitely has a type.) Unfortunately for viewers, the movie is very, very dark. Literally. Endings, Beginnings is so dark that sometimes it was even hard to see what was going on at all.
If it wasn’t for Jack’s sexy Irish brogue it would be hard to know which guy was trying to woo Daphne at any given moment. (Where does Jack end and Frank begin?) The movie tells us they are very different men. Jack is a responsible, successful writer. Frank is a hard-drinking ne’er-do-well. And honestly we just have to take their word for it.
The film is languid and moody in its storytelling. Extreme close-ups, awkward time jumps and hazy footage permeate the movie. It’s also quite fond of gratuitous sex scenes. I don’t know if this is because Woodley wants to make sure we know she’s all grown up now (never forget The Secret Life of the American Teenager) or because the film is desperately trying to convince viewers that there is an undeniable, unstoppable chemistry between Daphne and these men.
As if not content with obscuring the story via scene structure and the actual lighting, Endings, Beginnings also has Daphne communicate with both men mostly via text. Their text communication show up in bright neon words across the screen. It’s juvenile (which, granted, may be the point) and distracting, but the bigger issue is it’s a particularly passive choice to rely on text exchanges to move the action forward.
Apparently, much of the movie’s dialogue was improvised with the actors working off an outline of where the characters were supposed to go. At times, this does lend an air of authenticity to their exchanges. At others, it reminds us why scripts exists in the first place, as the dialogue turns extraordinarily pretentious and self-conscious. “Nothing good happens when I’m alone,” Daphne says. “How would you know? You’ve never tried it,” Ingrid tells her.
The movie works better when it provides the occasional insight into Daphne’s life. Her dad had a whole other family. She shares the same mom (Wendie Malick) with her sister Billie (Lindsay Sloane) but different dads. Her mom was constantly cycling through men. “For most of my life, I used my childhood as an excuse for my behavior,” Daphne laments.
We’ve all known people like Daphne, someone who just can’t seem to get his or her life together. “You make such a mess of everything,” Jack yells at her. (Or was it Frank? Does it matter?) Daphne’s a frustrating and self-centered character. But just like the real-life equivalents she reminds us of, it’s hard not to feel sympathy for her, and as is so often the case, there’s much more than we know going on with someone whose behavior is infuriating. Unfortunately, Endings, Beginnings doesn’t explore this at all, leaving it as vague as the the features of Jack/Frank in a dimly lit scene. This may also mirror what actually happens in real life when people’s traumas go unexplored, unmentioned and unattended to, but it makes for a frustrating theatrical experience.
After an utterly predictable plot twist toward the end, Endings/Beginnings swerves toward an uplifting and positive conclusion doesn’t feel natural or earned. By then, one can only hope those familiar, poorly lit faces made the viewing worthwhile.
Director: Drake Doremus
Writer: Jardine Libaire, Drake Doremus
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Jamie Dornan, Sebastian Stan, Matthew Gray Gubler, Lindsay Sloane, Shamier Anderson, Sherry Cola, Wendie Malick, Kyra Sedgwick
Release Date: May 1 (on demand)
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and Assistant TV Editor for Paste. (She writes about movies, too.) You can follow her on Twitter.