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Review: ‘Endings, Beginnings’ doesn’t know what to do with its strong cast

Shailene Woodley and Sebastian Stan in the movie "Endings, Beginnings."
(Samuel Goldwyn Films)

Directed by Drake Doremus, “Endings, Beginnings” is set amid a familiar world of young creative types in Los Angeles. Daphne (Shailene Woodley) breaks up with her long-time boyfriend, quits her job and moves into her sister’s poolhouse all in one week, vowing off men and alcohol for six months. Naturally, she soon meets both the stable Jack (Jamie Dornan) and unpredictable Frank (Sebastian Stan) and finds herself equally drawn to them. When it turns out they are close friends, a complicated situation becomes even trickier.

Though with a screenplay credited to Doremus and novelist Jardine Libaire, the film is reported to be semi-improvised, much to its detriment. The film’s languid tone of post-sex haze and late-afternoon sunshine comes across as limp and underdeveloped, leaving the actors, not the characters, frequently seeming lost and unsure of themselves within the scenes. With stronger material to start with, the actors might have conveyed the film’s scenario more convincingly.

Doremus also over-relies on montages to fill in the gaps between proper scenes and in the characters’ developing relationships. The sequences also start to feel padded, as if there wasn’t enough movie to go around.

“Endings, Beginnings” comes down to the strengths of its central trio and all three are compelling performers in their own way. Woodley often plays in a similar register of sullen and withdrawn as her character on TV’s “Big Little Lies,” but rather than the underlying rage of that performance, here she fills it with a light trying to peek out from behind the clouds. Stan does well as a sly charmer, while Dornan has the drier part of playing solid and dependable.

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There is a lot to like about “Endings, Beginnings,” not least it being a romantic drama that treats the emotional lives of its late 20-something/early 30-something characters with depth and seriousness. The film also gets the most out of its very attractive cast, with sex scenes that are frank but not explicit while also, well, more than a little hot. (Sebastian Stan fans may want to make special note.)

But some of the complications that are put in Daphne’s path to self-acceptance, including a trauma she suffered before the story picks up and where she finds herself as it concludes, feel false and contrived. “Endings, Beginnings” has some genuinely engaging moments somewhere in between its beginning and its ending, but too much gets lost in a saggy, shaggy middle.

'Endings, Beginnings'
Not rated

Running time: 1 hour and 50 minutes

Playing: Available on digital, April 17; VOD, May 1


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