Endings, Beginnings: 500 Days of Bummer, by Craig Schroeder
Endings, Beginnings is a mopey, tone-deaf slog that misunderstands its audience and its purpose. It’s like an entire set of Morrissey covers played on kazoo in the middle of a sports bar on Super Bowl Sunday. With a cast of beautiful people (including Shailene Woodley, Sebastian Stan, and Jamie Dornan), the film is an interminable look at a young woman’s tumultuous life post break-up, as she deals with past trauma, current crises, family, love, work, and art.
Taking place over roughly the course of a year, Endings, Beginnings starts around the Christmas season when Daphne (Woodley) breaks up with her long-term boyfriend (Matthew Gray Gubler, also beautiful) and moves in with her pregnant half-sister and her family. At a New Year’s Eve party she meets both Jack (Dornan) and Frank (Stan), two characters nearly indistinguishable from each other, save for the fact that one has a dog and a beard. Daphne begins casually dating each man without realizing they are close friends. And though the film tries to deconstruct the double standards applied to women (i.e. how they should act following a break-up, dating multiple men, etc.), it also re-affirms prevailing patriarchal notions, most notably, creepy-ass dudes whose creepy-ass antics are played as cute or romantic. While Frank begins texting Daphne without ever being given her phone number, Jack raises his red flag even higher by showing up at her work after getting the intel from a mutual friend.
Co-written by Jardine Libaire and director Drake Doremus, Endings, Beginnings is a flimsy pastiche of angsty relationship dramas. Every romantic encounter is limp and stale, with characters speaking in ways that no one ever does. When Daphne first meets Frank, it is supposed to be a flirty chat about how devastatingly sad Daphne has become. This signal of pain and trauma should be seen as a moment of empathy, but Endings, Beginnings treats it as an adorable meet cute. And this early inability to translate Daphne’s emotional state from script to screen is a harbinger of larger troubles at work in the film. All of Daphne’s deep traumas—which aren’t ever fully explained but mostly revolve around a traumatic break-up and a tumultuous relationship with her mother—are played like character quirks, meant as short-hand for her state of mind but never explored.
Endings, Beginnings is also just kind of grating—and not only because of the film’s obnoxious needle-drop soundtrack with over-the-counter guitar licks and melodramatic piano riffs that sound like they were written for car commercials. So much of the story is foisted upon the viewer, leaving little room for nuance. Kyra Sedgewick, playing the thankless role of friend/confidant, exists only as a springboard for Daphne to vomit up the film’s central themes (“One minute I’m having a panic attack and the next I’m high on the chaos” or “I don’t know how to say no, or how to stop, or be okay with what I have” are two of the lines that Sedgewick has to silently nod along to). But more than anything, Endings, Beginnings seems confused at what it wants to be, stuck somewhere between a romantic-comedy formula and an introspective character study that can’t ever find its footing. Though it leans more towards romance, all of the sensuality in the movie is stilted and prosaic. The sex scenes, meant to skew erotic, are blocked and shot in ways that feel voyeuristic and uncomfortable rather than romantic and sexy.
The most unfortunate part of Endings, Beginnings is the clear evidence of passion behind the project. It was written from a place of personal pain and experience. Unfortunately, when the cameras started to roll, that clear perspective was lost somewhere in the process and the result is a meandering film that simmers but never boils.