Endings, Beginnings

 

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An improvised drama of post-teen angst sees Shailene Woodley try to find herself in a haze of New Wave pretension and cigarette smoke.

   

Endings Beginnings

A few shades of stubble: Jamie Dornan and Shailene Woodley 

  

Shailene Woodley is one of the finest actresses of her generation and has cemented her stardom by force of talent over cosmetic conformity. She is the girl-next-door who wins her battles – or loses them – on her own terms. Here, she invests her soul in the part of a young woman who has lost her bearings over a seemingly arbitrary break-up. Returning to her home town – and her sister’s pool house – she attempts to piece together her life, find a job somewhere in the art world and restore her emotional equilibrium.

 

The director and co-writer Drake Doremus (Like Crazy, Equals) has elicited good performances from his actors, but seems less confident in his material. Stuck with a somewhat banal scenario, he seems intent on reinventing the cinematic wheel and much of the film feels as if it was constructed in the editing suite. Scenes overlap in temporal shifts, like sand moving on a beach, so that characters seem to be narrating a moment as it oscillates back and forth in time. Frankly, it’s an irritating – and unnecessary – conceit and persists throughout. It leaves the viewer with the uncomfortable sensation of eavesdropping on the narrative, rather than living in the moment.

 

And the set-up is not convincing. Shailene Woodley’s Daphne is a mess and yet manages to lure two of the best-looking men in town. More complicated still, the two men – who are conveniently single – are best friends. Jamie Dornan’s Jack is the sensitive, caring type and is frankly too good to be true. He’s also an enormously successful writer, lives in a well-appointed loft and is a damned fine cook. His mate, Frank, played by Sebastian Stan, is more fun, more unpredictable, dangerous even, and apparently has the bigger penis. Yet, in spite of the men’s intimacy, they seem blithely unaware that Daphne is two-timing them. Yep, Daphne is also the dishonest type, lying and dissembling her way into trouble. Her sister, Billie (Lindsay Sloane), rationalises that, “you’re never gonna find the person that gives it all to you, so you’re gonna have to find a person that gives you enough of it.” To which Daphne replies: “What if you find two people that give you two different sides of it?”

 

The trouble with Daphne is no one is sure what her “it” is, least of all Daphne. She’s given up alcohol but chain-smokes her way through the movie like she’s stuck in a feature from the Nouvelle Vague. Her self-pity is exasperating. And this is one of those movies where text messages flit across the screen like neon beacons of exposition. Frank, the fun guy, styles himself ‘Frank Suffer Buddy’ and sends her Spotify links. The film’s mix-tape of hip indie tracks (The Cranberries, Doves, Beach House) accentuates its sense of knowing cool and, ultimately, its artificiality. Endings, Beginnings purports to deal with adult themes but comes across as high school angst – with more stubble and private incomes. Quite how Daphne supports herself is another poser, although we periodically see her decorate tea pots in her down time. But because the film fails to convince it also fails to engage in any meaningful way. Shailene, as usual, is good, and Dornan is even better, wielding his Irish accent like a weapon of seduction.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Shailene Woodley, Jamie Dornan, Sebastian Stan, Matthew Gray Gubler, Lindsay Sloane, Shamier Anderson, Lawrence Rothman, Sherry Cola, Wendie Malick, Kyra Sedgwick, Ben Esler, James Trussart, Trevor the Dog.

 

Dir Drake Doremus, Pro Francis Chung, Screenplay Jardine Libaire and Drake Doremus, Ph Marianne Bakke, Pro Des Almitra Corey, Ed Garret Price, Music Philip Ekstrom, Costumes Christie Wittenborn.

 

CJ Entertainment/Protagonist Pictures-Signature Entertainment.

105 mins. USA/South Korea. 2019. Rel: 7 August 2020. Cert. 15.