Daphne (Shailene Woodley) ends a long-term relationship with Adrian (Matthew Gray Gubler) and ends up moving in with her married sister, the sister’s husband and their child. Daphne sets up in their pool-house. She’s in her early 30s and feels at a loss about her purpose and direction. She had employment but has lost her job. Her relationship with her mother (Wendie Malick) is prickly. Emotionally and practically, Daphne is a castaway marooned in the pool-house.
Although she spends some time feeling sorry for herself, she is the sort of person who likes to follow up contacts and leads and she begins talking to friends and cold-calling businesses to get something happening in her life. Her sadness plays in the background, her way of coping is activity. Flashbacks to moments in her relationship recur. She is part of a painting group where she gets together with two other women and they work on their art and talk about their lives.
One night, she goes to a party and in during the evening, she has intriguing interactions with two men. The first is Frank (Sebastian Stan), a handsome bad-boy who is vague about what he does, but is more than happy to discuss why suffering and misery are important emotional states to live in. Most of what he says is served up with a large dose of sarcasm and an eye on the effect it has on the listener. The second man, Jack (Jamie Dornan) is a published writer who is extremely charming and positive in a low-key way. Daphne connects with both, but tells herself and them, that she has just exited a long-term relationship and in not interested in starting anything, with anyone. She also declares that she is going alcohol-free.
As playwright Anton Chekhov almost said, “If in the first act, two hot men converse with the lead character, then in the following act, sex and dating must ensue.” Daphne finds herself in a love triangle with Frank and Jack.
ENDINGS, BEGINNINGS with the all-important comma in the middle, is a romantic drama. It is not however a Netflix romance, which is to say, Daphne isn’t the plucky gal who is fixing her busted life. The movie comes more from independent cinema in its presentation and intentions. Daphne is having a crisis, but she is riding it out. She’s smoking a ton of cigarettes. She’s hanging with friends. She’s having guilt-free sex with two different fellas (though not simultaneously). As existential crises go, this one is pretty good. One may watch this and question whether Daphne is having a crisis at all.
Movies don’t have to be about characters having an extremely a tough time. This movie gives us Frank, Jack and Daphne and we are invited to observe; they are middle-class thirty-somethings living comfortably in California. Their issues are jobs and relationships, not literal survival. Director Drake Doremus has co-written (with author Jardine Libaire) a script that examines the detail of this world. There is time to take in how people sound, what they say, how they’re dressed, what they do and how they get on with each other. From an observer’s perspective, the story is not about huge decisions, although these events are life-changing to these people on a personal level.
Shailene Woodley is usually watchable and inventive, the movie works because of her performance as Daphne. She creates a character that is more engaging than the source material offered. Jamie Dornan and Sebastian Stan do good work, this film gives Stan an opportunity to exhibit more facets than he can in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
This is Doremus’s ninth feature and this emotional territory is very familiar to him. He tends to use a great deal of improvisation from his actors, however relied on it less for this project. Overall, results are mixed. The audio and visual editing are clever. There are many beautifully shot images by Marianne Bakke; the artfully loose composition, plentiful soft focus foreground elements and drifting camera moves are all stylish. These contribute to our sense that we are the observers to Daphne’s current circumstances. We want to see more, but are slightly frustrated visually and the things we overhear don’t always help explain events. We are put in the position of guessing.
There is craft, and performance on offer here. Doremus directs with a sure hand and keeps things moving. This is a lightly engaging film, rather than a compelling story. For some, these actors in a romance will be reason enough to watch. For others, Woodley’s creation of Daphne will be sufficient reward. 110 minutes. (6.5/10)
Available to rent via Foxtel Store now.Available to rent On Demand from July 15 via multiple platforms