Intoxicating drama ‘ENDINGS, BEGINNINGS’ finds the beauty in emotional defeat

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

To find love with someone is like being lost in the right direction, where resentment doesn’t exist and support never ebbs. That need for connection appears to be innate. However, the ability to form a healthy, loving and strong relationship is learned. 

The theme of love can be found scattered across writer-director Drake Doremus’ 15-year filmmaking career. Even if one can pluck out this common thread in such works as Like Crazy, Equals and Newness, his films don’t cut down the same path twice. Each title explores romance at different phases and from new perspectives while also offering worthwhile lessons about understanding and growth. 

His latest intoxicating drama, Endings, Beginnings, is a poignant exercise in self-realization that details how, without sufficient self-love, we’re not capable of truly loving others. This is relatively fresh territory for Doremus, who, in a recent interview to promote his film’s digital release on Friday, spoke about how it was a concept that he needed to delve into at this stage in his life. 

“It’s a cathartic experience for me every time I make a film. I constantly think about what I have to say now in my life, what I’ve gone through and where I’m at, and how I can be honest about it all,” Doremus said. “Some days, I feel like I am growing, while others, I feel like I am going backward. It’s not all progression. But at the end of the day, I feel like I am always learning about filmmaking and relationships.”

Co-writer/director Drake Doremus. Courtesy of Guy Pearce.

Doremus’ films have an incredibly specific, stylized essence to them that lingers on all the senses. With his seamless blend of hand-held camera shots, lens focus and improv-encouraged sets, there is no other filmmaker who achieves this level of vulnerability on screen. Doremus’ style lends itself so well to capturing feelings that it uncovers aspects of humanity that we didn’t even realize were feelings. He’s not shy about showcasing the messier and darker shades of ourselves and how it’s OK to occupy that arena. 

“We will all get through it. Self-love and self-healing are the only ways that we’re ever going to be with someone else again, and that’s a really crazy-long process sometimes,” Doremus said.

In Endings, Beginnings, Doremus taps into universal truths about the formation and undoing of relationships. There are times in our lives when we feel like we could pump our fist in the air like we’re Judd Nelson in the end zone, and there are other times when we could cry all night, wishing to hit the fast-forward button to get the hell over it. It’s here that Doremus reminds us that we’re not alone on this emotional rollercoaster and that there’s beauty in the breakdown. His new film helps to process all the stuff going on in our heads by deeply examining the complicated nature of relationships through a complex character study. 

Doremus’ protagonist is adopted by Shailene Woodley (The Spectacular Now), who delivers a career-best performance as Daphne. Her thirtysomething, artistic character is reeling from the end of a four-year relationship to Adrian (Matthew Gray Gubler), with whom she was convinced he was “the one.” But circumstances, perhaps dark chapters in her history, have dashed those hopes.

(L-R) Jamie Dornan as Jack and Shailene Woodley as Daphne in the romance / drama ENDINGS, BEGINNINGS, a Samuel Goldwyn Films release. Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

While trying to figure out her next step, Daphne moves in with her married half-sister, Billie (Lindsay Sloane). Her emotionally supportive friend and figurative Jiminy Cricket, Ingrid (Kyra Sedgwick), suggests that she should pause to find herself again. Daphne, in a fearful voice, exclaims the terror in that proposal. But ultimately, she decides to pledge to take a six-month sabbatical from alcohol and men to stitch together the fabrics of her emotional life.

As optimistic as she is from the onset, that promise hits turbulence when Daphne meets Frank (a magnetic Sebastian Stan) at her sister’s New Year’s Eve party. The two exchange glances and flirt over cigarettes and small talk about self anguish. Moments later, she runs into a friend of Frank’s named Jack (a warm and inviting Jamie Dornan), an Irish writer-teacher who shows promise of being someone with caring attributes as opposed to the bad-boy unpredictability of Frank. Sparks happen with both men, and Daphne must navigate the troubling waters of temptation while also patching up the cracks in her rearview. 

Endings, Beginnings highlights how we are all haunted by the messes we’ve made in our lives by the ways we can sabotage relationships and opportunities. It’s rare to see characters colored this way – ones who often make mistakes, say the wrong thing or behave in such a fashion that you can feel your comfort slip away. As challenging at that may seem, Doremus gives the experience value.

“I despise movies where the characters are painted in black and white. That’s not how people are. We’re gray and make mistakes, especially when no one is watching or when we’re caught up in something and can’t help ourselves,” Doremus said. “I am interested in exploring the idea of that push-pull between your gut and your head. If a character is willing to change and wants to change, grow and be a better version of themselves, I’m willing to go through their muckiness and yucky side.” 

For Daphne, you can feel why she makes the decisions she does. Even if your mental wavelength doesn’t align with her’s, there’s an inherent sense of empathy built into the way the story unfolds. The emotional throughline that Doremus creates is one of his greatest strengths as a storyteller. Daphne could be looking at an object in her room, and you would instantly feel the history she has with it, without her having to mutter a word or have a narration to spoon-feed the audience. 

“I’m just trying to create a sense of that thing or object being in someone’s life. I like to have my actors work with the art department, production designers and prop department to make the film as personal as possible. Just having an actor show up on set with a book they’ve never read before, you can feel how false it is,” Doremus said, before detailing Woodley’s contributions to the film’s tangibility. “[Woodley] drew in books and found creative ways to make the character her own. It really brings the story and all the elements that surround her to life. This allows the actors to be truly in it as opposed to stepping on set and merely playing somebody.”

Behind the scenes photo of director Drake Doremus (right) on the set with Sebastian Stan. Photo courtesy of Shailene Woodley.

Despite the enormity of dialogue’s impact on the film industry, there’s a school of thought which claims that spoken words can detract from a film’s visual identity. Additionally, some information can be felt and seen instead of told. Although there’s plenty of dialogue in the film, arguably, some of the most vigorous sequences happen when little to no verbal exchanges take place. 

“Dialogue is the second piece of ammo I use. I try to stay away from it as much as I can. If I can do silence, I find it to be more interesting because it conveys something more valuable. Sometimes, things need to be said. But if you lighten the verbal language, when a character says something, it becomes all the more powerful and important. It develops meaning and has weight. To me, it’s about finding what those moments are,” Doremus said.

The film’s original outline – which Doremus co-wrote with novelist Jardine Libaire – primarily set up environments and contained the emotional significance from moment to moment. There wasn’t much dialogue. Doremus favors inviting the talent to be a significant part of the creative process. 

In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, Frank is giving Daphne a ride home after going to a mixer. They pull over to the side of the road to use the restroom — Daphne spots a dead animal nearby. Whatever the outcome or fate of the characters, Doremus allows the viewer to sit with it. 

“My co-writer [Libaire] wrote that scene. It’s one of my favorite scenes. I think Daphne knows the idea of symbolism and that something could perish and is not meant for longevity. She recognizes it, but chooses to ignore it,” Doremus said. “I think a lot of people can relate to that. We know when something is dangerous and wrong, but we can’t help ourselves. We have to experience it and explore it.”

There’s a lot to absorb in Doremus’ film. The direction the story takes could frustrate you at times, break your heart, or make you smile during others. It’s all about crafting an organic and authentic journey of discovering ourselves and making sense of what we’ve experienced. Self-love may not be as essential to relationships as we sometimes make it out to be.

Endings, Beginnings gives us the truth, ugly or pretty, so we can shift our mindset to view our relationships in a new light.

Samuel Goldwyn Films has made Endings, Beginnings available on digital platforms today and will make it available through On Demand on May 1.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.