- Newly single Daphne (Shailene Woodley) meets Frank (Sebastian Stan) and Jack (Jamie Dornan) at a party. Drawn to the two completely different men, Daphne starts seeing both of them, which becomes complicated when she learns Frank and Jack are pals.
After some forays into low-budget science-fiction (Equals, Zoe), writer-director Drake Doremus makes a successful return to his messiness-of-relationships wheelhouse that started with 2011’s Like Crazy. At first glance, Endings, Beginnings feels like familiar ménage-à-trois territory, but Doremus embroiders the tale with enough texture and roundedness to make it feel fresh. The result is well made, well played and mostly engaging, but runs out of steam in its final straight.
After breaking up from a long relationship and making a snap decision to leave her job, Daphne comes to hang out in her sister’s (Lindsay Sloane) outhouse. At a New Year’s Eve party, she meets drug addict Frank (Sebastian Stan, cropped beard) and first-time novelist Jack (Jamie Dornan, bushier beard). She begins seeing them both — Frank is flaky but passionate, the couple having sex out of a ’90s erotic thriller; Jack is sensitive, attentive but bad in bed. The situation becomes complicated when it is revealed the two men are friends.
As is Doremus’ MO, the revelations here aren’t over-sensationalised — everything is played out in a low-key, naturalistic manner. It’s full of all the director’s trademarks — strong performances, unforced storytelling, dreamy visuals, montages to miserable pop music — and peppered with strong moments: a last-act moment of closeness between Daphne and her mother (Wendie Malick) is a particular standout. Less successful is a flashback thread which drip-feeds scenes of Daphne on a night out where it becomes clear she is being taken advantage of. For such an important insight into the character’s current psyche, it feels too much of an elliptical, airy-fairy approach for something so vital.
Still, if the love triangle doesn’t entirely grip, Endings, Beginnings works best as a portrait of a young woman trying to keep everything together as her life falls apart, buoyed by an excellent Shailene Woodley in her best performance to date. The YA star has just grown up.