The work of writer/director Drake Doremus has been a bone of contention over the past few years since his impressive breakthrough with 2011’s Like Crazy, an almost completely improvised romantic drama that starred the late Anton Yelchin, Felicity Jones, and Jennifer Lawrence. A hit with audiences – it won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize that year – the performances of its leads garnered much praise but his style and loose structure left some a little more muted, with critics citing its unrealistic premise and contrived narrative, criticisms that have come targeted at any new endeavour since and his latest, Endings, Beginnings, has been no different. Is this a case of further diminishing returns? The answer, very sadly, is yes.
We meet Daphne (Shailene Woodley) at her lowest ebb: recently broken up with her boyfriend, she moves back in with her sister to try to bring some semblance of balance back to her life, focusing on her career instead of men, drink and everything in between. That is until she meets Jack (Jamie Dornan), a writer and professor and Frank, a free spirit who wants to embrace all of life’s little nuances, however good or bad. She is drawn to both and a love triangle forms that sends Daphne’s life spiralling out of control once more.
As with those aforementioned films, Doremus’ style is one unto its own – whilst he allows his actors the true freedom to mould and construct their characters, their arcs and indeed their relationships, such luxuries can at times be to the detriment of the story it is trying to tell and, as such, is the reason that Endings, Beginnings falls flat despite some flashes of brilliance, not least from its strong ensemble.
The film almost feels like a long montage rather than one with a true through story, with small vignettes of information about Daphne’s life before the main action but where Doremus surely hoped this would convey her journey and her strife through it, it only lends the film a slow, dawdling, meandering feel that despite some neat flourishes and some wonderful work from cinematographer Marianne Bakke, ultimately leads to frustration rather than inspiration.
Indeed, as it slogs on, you find yourself caring less and less about those involved in the love triangle and your brain wanders to everything but what is happening on the screen. A story of love lost, love gained, denial, acceptance, taking control of your life and the power of catharsis, gets all tied up in its unique structure that much of the themes it is trying to convey get lost in the mess. Woodley, however, is superb in the lead role and continues – surprisingly – to go a little under the radar whilst Dornan and Stan provide strong support even if both look to be struggling with the improvised nature.
A curious little film given that its leads are excellent and its look is easy on the eye, Endings Beginnings doesn’t ever feel like it starts and, as it goes on, doesn’t feel like it wants to end, determined to draw out its thin story to the max when, when a little judicious editing and stricter focus may have made it something worthwhile. As it stands, this is a frustrating, cumbersome disappointment that falls well short.
Drama | USA, 2019 |15 | Digital HD | iTunes | 7th August 2020 (UK) | Signature Entertainment | Dir.Drake Doremus | Shailene Woodley, Jamie Dornan, Sebastian Stan, Matthew Gray Gubler , Lindsay Sloane