Exploring who we are is one of the key values of dating; in a sense, different partners allow us the chance to try on different versions of ourselves until we find the one that works best. Ideally, we’ll find out best version at the time we find our best partner, with all the experiences we had serving as a kind of fertilizer for our emotional and personal growth.
The process can be ugly, of course. Growth typically is. But there’s compelling narrative value in the act of finding one’s self in the midst of the turmoil of dating. We become different people as we surround ourselves with different people, and it’s through that which allows us to discover our truest selves. Whether this is painful or rewarding, it’s still beautiful.
This is the idea explored in Endings, Beginnings, the latest film from director Drake Doremus (Zoe). Cowritten by Doremus and novelist Jardine Libaire, Endings, Beginnings is an evolutionary refinement of Doremus’s intimate, experimental style of filmmaking. The well-plotted narrative from Doremus and Libaire, combined with the director’s improvisational bent, makes for an intriguing examination of modern dating and the philosophical search for self.
Shailene Woodley (Big Little Lies) stars as the recently single Daphne. Following her breakup with her boyfriend of four years, Adrian (Matthew Gray Gubler), Daphne swears herself to a period of self-discovery, swearing off dating and alcohol as she attempts to recenter her life. Those plans are thrown into turmoil, however, when she meets the mysterious bad boy, Frank (Sebastian Sam), and the acclaimed writer, Jack (Jamie Dornan) at her sister’s New Year’s Eve party. Compelled by both men for different reasons, and unaware that they’re both friends, Daphne begins dating each man, discovering new sides to herself along the way.
Endings, Beginnings is a deeply contemplative film that manages to capture the difficulties of modern dating and the process of self-discovery remarkably well. This is do in no small part to Woodley’s performance. More than just the subject of the film, Daphne is the emotional heartbeat, and the actress proves just how far she’s come since her days in the Divergent franchise.
That’s no surprise to anyone who’s seen Big Little Lies, of course, but she holds the weight of this film more directly than she did on that series, and she truly shines in the position. Her Daphne is vulnerable and naïve, brave and reticent, and as real as it gets. She works well with Doremus’s style, which allows for heavy improv to create a sense of stunning realism.
Perhaps most of all, she’s fun to watch. Woodley manages to capture the subtle changes of personality that comes with the territory of self-exploration. With Frank, she pulls from a well-spring of deep existential despair, wallowing in a borderline nihilistic approach to life and love. With Jack she gets to be more traditional, drinks and dinner, movies and laughter.
From this, Doremus and Labaire are able to plot Daphne’s deepening sense of personal self and cementing realities. While the film itself does border on too long (15-20 minutes could have been cut without losing much of the narrative punch), it remains a well-crafted look at how we, as individuals, define ourselves in part by our partners. Doremus, along with cinematographer Marianne Bakke, manage to explore the deep personal intimacy of a life up in the air, capturing the feelings of conflicting love amidst the quest for self-love.
Though far from perfect, Endings, Beginnings remains an emotionally compelling film that is unafraid to explore the messy complications of modern romance. The combined talents of Woodley and Doremus alone are enough to elevate the film above its problems and make for an occasionally fascinating, always real exploration of what it means to love and be loved in our modern world.
Endings, Beginnings is now available on VOD platforms.