At this point, it’s easy to spot a Drake Doremus film when you see one. There are certain hallmarks that are clearly visible, over a half dozen works into his career. For some, his approach to storytelling doesn’t work. For others, it’s an emotional and often riveting way to invest you in his characters. I’ve found myself in the latter camp ever since his breakthrough Like Crazy, and his newest movie, the romantic drama Endings, Beginnings, is another home run. Showcasing the yearning for human connection that we all share, Doremus once again will rock you to your core. This time around, he also has another stunning performance the center of his movie, with Shailene Woodley doing some of the best work of her career. Available to watch on Digital this Friday, it’s one of the best flicks of the year so far.
The film is a romantic drama and a character study, set over the course of one year in the life of our protagonist Daphne (Woodley). Having picked up her life and moved in with her sister Billie (Lindsay Sloane) in an effort to start fresh, she’s also sworn off dating and men for this period. However, at a party she winds up meeting two gentlemen, best friends Frank (Sebastian Stan) and Jack (Jamie Dornan). Both are interested in her, initially unaware of each other’s courtship, and offer up two very different types of guy for Daphne. She resists their charms initially, seeking to just be friends, but in short order, a love triangle emerges. Frank is volatile and unpredictable, though they share a deep lust. Jack is calm and reliable, but does he generate that spark for her? As she navigates this situation, she also recalls a past trauma that set her on this particular path. It all dovetails into an ending you won’t see coming, but leaves Daphne in an absolutely perfect place. Doremus directs and co-writes with Jardine Libaire, with cinematography from Marianne Bakke. Supporting players include Matthew Gray Gubler, Wendie Malick, Kyra Sedgwick, and more.
Shailene Woodley turns in one of her absolute best performances here. She’s so open with her emotions, you feel every single thing that Daphne feels. Doremus keeps the camera close on her, studying her, as if trying to figure the character out. Woodley herself is doing the same, and it’s engrossing to witness. She’s rarely been better than she is in this flick, and it’s a credit to Doremus, as well as herself, that they dig this deep. Jamie Dornan and Sebastian Stan are strong as well, leaning in to the archetypes they’re playing, as well as finding the unique notes that define their characters. Both Dornan and Stan have excellent chemistry with Woodley, which is essential for the movie’s success. The cast is impeccable, to say the least.
Drake Doremus just has a way of telling a story that keeps you glued to the screen. The tight cinematography from Marianne Bakke is always observing faces, the color scheme is vivid, and the emotional resonance is deep. Everything felt by a character in the film, and especially by Daphne, is real. If there’s a tiny flaw, it’s that Doremus and co-writer Jardine Libaire stretch things out a little more than necessary. A running time shaved by five or ten minutes would have made this a more compact and even more tense experience. It’s a small quibble, but the lax pacing is noticeable. You won’t care too much, since you’ll be invested in Daphne’s life, but still. Other than that, this is one of his most accomplished films, on a directorial level.
Endings, Beginnings doesn’t just want to move you to tears. It also wants to make you appreciate life, love, and even find some joy by the end of it all. It’s a tightrope that Doremus has walked many times before, sometimes operating on a strictly relationship level, like with Like Crazy or Newness, though on other occasions, like with Equals and Zoe, he’s brought a science fiction element to it. There’s no sci-fi here, and at the outset, the movie seems to more related to his intense and observational Breathe In. Then, she romantic element reveals itself and it becomes very much a combination of several things that the filmmaker has explored before. If you’ve appreciated any of those prior works, you’ll be fond of what he’s doing here, as well.
This weekend, fans of Doremus as well as Woodley have a fantastic option to watch when Endings, Beginnings hits Digital, before moving to On Demand next month. Truly one of the more powerful works of 2020 to date, it’s an engrossing work that deserves your full attention. If you have any investment in character studies, you should definitely give this film a shot. You’ll be glad that you did, truly…
Be sure to check out Endings, Beginnings, available on Digital starting on Friday, and then On Demand May 1!