Argumentative married couple Greg Bruce and Zanna Gillespie review Endings, Beginnings.
Quality of director's name: 5
Quality of director's blazers: 5
Quality of director's vision: 1
The real issue with Endings, Beginnings, I said to Zanna as the credits rolled, was that the ending should have been much closer to the beginning. If that line was any funnier then, and she gave no indication it was, that was because it sounded spontaneous, which it wasn't - I had thought of it an hour earlier.
The movie was bad and, worse than that, it was improvised. The cast of attractive 30-somethings riffed from a loose script that called for them to fall in and out of love with each other for nearly two hours. The improvisation was hard to watch. It's difficult to believe a group of 30-something actors could so struggle to act like 30-somethings.
After I told Zanna I thought the film sucked, she asked why, and I said the improvisation was a big part of it.
"Did you think it was improvised?" she said, her tremendously high upward inflection indicating her scepticism, so I googled it and found I was right and she was wrong, and I told her so, and asked how on earth she could have missed something so obvious and said I had noticed it very early on in the movie, and asked again if she really hadn't noticed, and added: "Are you pulling my leg?"
I understood this film better than Zanna and I think I know why, and it all started to fall into place when, during the end credits, I saw the fantastical name of the writer-director: Drake Doremus. I had never heard of him, but a name is worth a lot. I thought, "I know who you are, Drake Doremus; I know exactly who you are. You're in your early 30s, you have eccentric hair, you like a blazer as part of a casual outfit, you've had a couple of serious relationships, you wished you were better with the ladies in college, now you've met this incredible woman and you just have to write about her, man, or you're going to go crazy!
"I know you Drake Doremus! You're the type of guy who's been boring people for years with your faux depth philosophy at faux dive bars across the United States and Europe and in Southeast Asian backpacking hotspots and now you want nothing more than to get an invite from City Lights to read from your soon-to-be-published book of comic love poetry."
What I'm trying to say, is that Drake Doremus, in his overreaching, over-emoting attempt to explain the pain of early middle-aged love through a presumably semi-autobiographical story, reminded me a lot of myself.
I noticed immediately that the director of this film was trying to do something different. I liked that. The editing was unconventional, sometimes the dialogue wasn't synched with the image, the camera was floating around in a pseudo-documentary style and the acting was naturalistic. Doremus had a vision and I applaud that. Unfortunately not all visions are complete and Endings, Beginnings is missing something vital.
Before I get into that, let's discuss the acting Greg found offensively improvised. I have to be careful here because in a post-viewing conversation, Greg said, "I don't like it when you say 'I don't agree with that at all.'" I obviously argued that us not agreeing is the very basis of this column but he would prefer I word it differently - while Greg's opinion is valid, mine differs very slightly but in no way aggressively in that I thought the actors' presence in their roles was one of the few things going for this film. Shailene Woodley's face is incredibly emotive. She plays torment, uncertainty and regret very well. The deep sadness in her eyes made me want to make her a cup of tea and put her to bed.
I'm not an actor but I admire good acting. I listen to the In The Envelope podcast, in which award-winning actors talk about their process. Skilled acting can elevate a project and I think that's the case here. My speculation is that Woodley had a much greater understanding of her character than the writer/director, which leads me to the question: Why would a man write a relationship film from the perspective of a woman? A film about a woman who dates two men, friends, at the same time - it's peculiar. Screenwriting 101: write what you know.
Throughout the film I tried to let go of my monogamy-centric judgmentalism and understand why this woman behaved the way she did when it clearly pained her. I had to work very hard to try to strip away societal conditioning because I thought maybe this film had something interesting to say about the pitfalls of monogamy but, in the end, it didn't. When I tried to explain my internal dialogue to Greg I somehow unwittingly led him to believe that I no longer support monogamy and, since I'm no longer allowed to say "I don't agree with that at all", I haven't yet rectified that.
In summary, Endings, Beginnings is a film in which a group of talented actors inhabit their characters perfectly and believably to tell an incomplete and mostly meaningless story about a woman making some bad decisions.