Somehow a love triangle featuring Sebastian Stan and Jamie Dornan turns out to be boring, pretentious, and a wee bit problematic.

By Mary Sollosi
April 17, 2020 at 12:53 PM EDT
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Samuel Goldwyn Films

Drake Doremus has built a career on examining the essential messiness of human relationships, best of all in 2011’s Like Crazy, which brilliantly showcased the talents of Anton Yelchin, Felicity Jones, and Jennifer Lawrence. What’s such a shame about his latest, Endings, Beginnings, is that the film itself is so much messier than any of the complex emotions (and there are a lot of them) it so simplistically depicts.

Shailene Woodley stars as Daphne, an artistic young woman who recently left her dream job and her longtime boyfriend for ambiguous reasons that become clearer over the course of the film. Though she vows to give up dating for six months, temptation immediately hits twice, in the form of roguish charmer Frank (Sebastian Stan) and sweet academic Jack (Jamie Dornan). After both men become irrevocably, inexplicably obsessed with her — truly, there’s no accounting for the stalkerish behavior that a few moments of conversation inspire — she tentatively begins casual relationships with them both, struggling to choose between two different notions of what her life could be.

Like much of Doremus’ work, Endings, Beginnings is largely improvised, but the inane dialogue is a testament to the benefit of working from a full script. The film’s greatest feature is its charismatic central trio, who have credible chemistry; still, there’s nowhere in this half-baked conception of a protagonist for the ever-watchable Woodley to direct her intensity, and the only reason Stan and Dornan are compelling as romantic rivals — who deal with sharing an attraction to the same person more like gossipy teenage girls than grown men — is that they’re such appealing stars themselves.

The film presents an overly familiar but artfully composed indie-drama vision of Los Angeles, all (mostly white) young people with artsy jobs living in light-filled loft apartments. Marianne Bakke’s romantic camerawork and Garret Price’s impressionistic editing evoke the hazy, dreamy quality of memory, enhanced by a soundtrack of coolly detached indie rock. The overall effect is oddly soothing, if a little dated and pretentious.

These small sins would be more forgivable, though, if the film didn’t attempt to bite off way more than it could chew, thematically speaking. As Daphne’s frankly weird parallel relationships intensify, a maddening new development forces her to take ownership of her mistakes. Meanwhile, the details of her trauma finally come to light, and in what can only be described as a terrible accident, the film conflates what she’s done with what she’s suffered, seeming to imply that she must take responsibility not only for her behavior, but her victimhood as well.

Every piece of arbitrary baggage piled onto these characters serves only to twist the lifeless story around, not tease out some truth at the heart of this drama. Where the film is straining for authentic human messiness, it comes up with only cinematic contrivances. In their cringeworthy initial flirtation, Frank is evidently enchanted by Daphne’s clichéd Mysterious Sad Girl routine, which culminates in her saying he’s entered her “suffer zone.” The next day, he obtains her phone number somehow (don’t get me started on their nightmarish text banter) and sends her a playlist entitled “Music to Suffer To.” If ever there was a movie to suffer to, Endings, Beginnings is it. D+

Endings, Beginnings is now available on digital.

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