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TIFF Review: Shailene Woodley can’t save the slow ‘Endings, Beginnings’

Courtesy of TIFF
 
 

Editor’s Note: Vanyaland’s Nick Johnston is north of the border all week long for the 2019 Toronto International Film Festivalclick here for our continued coverage from the fest and also check out our full TIFF archives of past coverage.

If one thing is made completely crystal clear by the end of Drake Doremus’s Endings, Beginnings, it’s that the dude most definitely has a smoking fetish. Seriously, we watch Shailene Woodley and her co-stars suck down so many butts over the course of this thing that you’ve got to imagine that three-quarters of a California landfill must have been full of those non-tobacco Ecstasy cigarette stubs by the end of shooting (they still have a ways to go to beat Mad Men, of course). This dramedy about the romantic foibles and follies of Daphne (Woodley), a 30-something LA hipster who’s living out of her half-sister’s pool house after a break-up with the man that she thought was going to be the one, offers very few new insights into a genre that has been worn into the ground over the course of the last 10 years, even if it gives us Sebastian Stan at his absolute vapors-inducing hottest.

Pushed into this period of self-destruction by a workplace trauma that caused her to lose her job in the art world, Daphne swears that she’s going to take a break from both drinking and dudes, and she wants to try and use this period of loneliness for self-reflection. Life, as it happens, has other plans, and at a New Year’s party, she’s introduced to two eligible young bachelors: Frank (Stan), a rakish sex machine who lives life to the fullest and enjoys a good drink (or five), and Jack (Jamie Dornan), a reserved but sweet author and teacher who lives alone with his adorable Corgi. She turns them both down politely at first, but over the course of a few months, she winds up hooking up with the both of them, wanting both Frank’s passion and raw sexuality and Jack’s reliability and comfort. It’s a dilemma that lots of people who aren’t film critics can relate to, and ultimately she has a choice to make about how she’s going to proceed with her life: does she want to be her mom — unreliable and moving husband-to-husband — or does she want something more?

Doremus’s style can essentially be summed up as “mumblecore by way of Anthropologie,” and his slick “realism” is often undercut by the outright fantastical nature of Daphne’s lifestyle, which is more a collection of habits in search of a character. Woodley does well-enough with the material, but she’s oddly inert here, a sort of shape-shifter adapting to her surroundings and her pairings rather than showing any inner life beyond what’s on the page. Both of these guys are straight-up catches — Dornan’s cute and soulful and Stan is basically aping James Dean in an incredibly fine way — and her frustration with her predicament feels, well, false when compared with her character at the start of the film.

There are solid scenes, usually involving the actors playing well off of one another, but these moments don’t really add up to anything meaningful. The ending is especially odd, as it completes the film’s cycle (of endings and beginnings, no less), but it really comes out of nowhere in this over-stuffed and over-long film. If you’re going to make a 110-minute romance, you could at least make it move a little quicker from moment-to-moment, and Doremus just can’t help himself but indulge every last one of his instincts here.