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Film Review: “Endings, Beginnings” Showcases Subtlety and Shailene Woodley

Written by: Hannah Tran | April 30th, 2020

Film poster: “Endings, Beginnings”

Endings, Beginnings (Drake Doremus, 2019) 3 out of 4 stars.

Drake Doremus, director of Sundance darling Like Crazy and sci-fi romance Zoe, is no stranger to the love story. But in his latest romance film, Endings, Beginnings, Doremus moves beyond the typical boy-meets-girl trope. Instead, Doremus introduces us to a girl who meets not one, but two boys, but whose ultimate love story will be with none other than herself. Grounded by a stellar central trio made up of actors as talented as they are popular, namely Shailene Woodley (HBO’s Big Little Lies), Sebastian Stan (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), and Jamie Dornan (Fifty Shades of Grey), Endings, Beginnings rises above its greatest flaws and becomes yet another touching, sweet, and complex entry into Doremus’s oeuvre.

Woodley is no stranger to her character here. We’ve seen her play variations on recently broken-up Daphne countless times before. Nevertheless, her strong sense of balance between strength and vulnerability perfectly captures Daphne’s struggle between feeling as though she needs to be mature and feeling as though her life has just started over, which it sort of has. Both Dornan and Stan, as her love interests and as best friends, paint a believable complexity that perfectly mirrors her internal situation. And Matthew Gray Gubler (CBS’s Criminal Minds), as her ex-boyfriend Adrian, surprises with a small, but sentimental role that ultimately emotionally pays off just as much as either of her new flames.

Jamie Dornan and Shailene Woodley in ENDINGS, BEGINNINGS ©Samuel Goldwyn Films

While Endings, Beginnings is a timeless tale of love and relationships, Doremus is committed to centering it in our modern-day world. Much of the relationships at the center play out over texts and playlists. There is a certain level of commentary on the complications that modern dating rules and norms are prone to cause. And yet, it is difficult to say whether that commentary is ever taken far enough to truly justify the film’s existence. While fully enjoyable to watch, the film always seems just an inch away from ever truly establishing its own unique importance or meaning. Like Daphne, it doesn’t seem to have the confidence to fully assert itself. But it gets closest to this with a side story about a repressed memory of Daphne’s concerning a situation she had with her old boss that ultimately forced her to leave her job.

The reason that this element is so successful is due to Doremus’s directorial delicacy in portraying Daphne’s recollection of those events. All of the performances and stylistic decisions reflect this warm subtlety and make for an extremely nuanced depiction of life in the #MeToo era, romance in the digital age, and the necessity of self-love. And although a shocking revelation about two-thirds of the way through initially feels jarring, Doremus does both a good job at laying the groundwork for it and justifying it through its ultimate resolution.

Shailene Woodley in ENDINGS, BEGINNINGS ©Samuel Goldwyn Films

Endings, Beginnings perfectly captures the feeling that you may have just ruined your life. And then it keeps going. Its primary goal is to understand the reasons its characters do what they do and forgive them. Filled with compassion, tenderness, and its own style of redemption, Doremus’s latest entry into the complicated romance canon is one that most of us will likely find a bit of ourselves in.

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Hannah Tran is a film critic and filmmaker from Las Vegas, Nevada. She is currently studying film and English at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In addition to her studies, Hannah works as a film screener for the Las Vegas Film Festival and publishes an independent zine focused on highlighing Asian American filmmaking.

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