In a post-Tumblr and currently-virus filled world, it can be easy to fall into a fantasy. Perhaps your’s involves vintage clothes, scenic deserts, and two fandom-related hotties battling for your affection. If it does, then new indie flick Endings, Beginnings is that personal overly-dramatic fan fiction come true. Except for this time, Shailene Woodley is the central protagonist while Sebastian Stan and Jamie Dornan are her (or your) possible future boyfriends.
From the first frame, writer/director Drake Doremus (“Like Crazy”)takes us into a cinematic landscape only Instagram could inspire. Everything is decorated in muted jewel tones, evoking the most deliciously indie of album covers — a visual language that perfectly describes Daphne (Woodley, “Adrift”). She’s a newly-single Etsy-made painter, looking for a new direction (or “beginning” as the title suggests). Broke with nowhere to go, Daphne finds herself staying inside of her half-sister’s home and becoming entangled in said sibling’s social circle.
This is where Daphne meets her two possible suitors. First, she flirts with Frank (Stan, “Avengers: Infinity War”), a delicious bad boy who oozes charm from the second he walks in. And then there’s Jack (Dornan, “Robin Hood”), the sweet and humble intellectual that resembles that of a golden retriever (minus the blonde fur). Each of them has equal amounts of pros and cons, with the biggest issue being that they’re best friends. So when Daphne decides to pursue both gentlemen simultaneously, things get (to put in simple social media terms) complicated.
Daphne is clearly a girl who (much like a 90’s era Disney Princess) is wanting more than what has been thrown her way. She appreciates the comforting aspects of her cozy vanilla romance with Jack but loves the thrill of the chase that she gets from Frank. It’s an all too common tale that is drizzled in the clichés of other well known romantic stories past.
Yet there is one aspect in this trio that is far from the norm. For though cinema has delivered on a collection of devilish hotties in years prior, little to none of them have check-marked all of those dangerous dreams quite like Stan’s performance as Frank. Why? Because not only does he dress like a hipster god that ran through an Urban Outfitters with an AMEX in hand, he also is laser-focused on Daphne’s satisfaction — something that Stan sells with effortless, almost unbelievable ease.
And Stan, coupled with the rest of the cast, is the most magical element of Endings, Beginnings. If portrayed by any other group of individuals, this script could have come across even more barebones than it likely does on the page. But with Woodley’s unfiltered emotions, Stan’s intoxicating energy, and Dornan’s natural charms, they all sell these characters to a very real degree.
But in 2020, even with excellent performances at its center, stories such as this continue to lose their glimmer. There are only so many excuses one can give to a project that seems to come from an abandoned 70s TV movie screenplay, warts and all. Because for every progressive image of Daphne taking control of her romantic and sexual life, there is a step backward — a cinematic “tsk tsk” that doesn’t let her be a woman of her time, but rather an example of what they shouldn’t look like. A fact that is easily the biggest crime of Endings, Beginnings.
There’s no denying that Daphne is a flawed individual. She makes choices that will likely result in you creating yourself some bangs and then regretting such drastic hairstyle decisions. But even with her constant return to the drama-filled roller coaster that is her heart, that doesn’t mean that she should be dealt the same Lifetime movie conclusions that are equally frustrating as they are laughable.
Doremus and his co-screenwriter Jardine Libaire seem to think of their heroine’s journey as the ultimate modern take on what love means. That perhaps this is the kind of modern happily ever after or “beginning” some do indeed dream of. But in Daphne’s case, maybe she, and this fantasy, were destined for so much more.