I’M THINK­ING OF END­ING THINGS

Empire (UK) - - ON SCREEN - JOHN NU­GENT

★★★ OUT NOW / NET­FLIX CERT 15 / 134 MINS

DIREC­TOR Char­lie Kauf­man CAST Jessie Buck­ley, Jesse Ple­mons, Toni Col­lette, David Thewlis

PLOT A young woman (Buck­ley) em­barks on a road trip with her new boyfriend (Ple­mons) to meet his par­ents (Col­lette, Thewlis) — while she con­sid­ers end­ing the re­la­tion­ship. But when they ar­rive, her grip on re­al­ity be­gins to fal­ter.

THE LAST TIME Char­lie Kauf­man at­tempted to adapt a book, the 2002 meta-mind­fuck Adap­ta­tion, he was hit with such bru­tal writer’s block that he placed him­self into the movie as a char­ac­ter, and in­vented him­self a twin brother, too. There’s no sign of him as a char­ac­ter in this, his eighth film as writer and third as direc­tor, so we can pre­sume the writ­ing process went a bit bet­ter. But Char­lie Kauf­man is all over it.

His hall­marks are ev­ery­where: an anx­ious, de­spair­ing out­look on re­la­tion­ships, self-worth, and hu­man­ity; a with­er­ing cri­tique of Western cul­ture; a fourth wall that doesn’t so much break as im­plode; and a huge ap­petite for the sur­real. Like his 2004 film Eter­nal Sun­shine Of The Spot­less Mind, it be­gins near the end of a re­la­tion­ship: Lucy (a beau­ti­fully un­der­stated Jessie Buck­ley) con­sid­ers her “un­fix­able” prob­lems with Jake (Jesse Ple­mons, chan­nelling Philip Sey­mour Hoff­man), on their way to meet­ing Jake’s par­ents. But, as Lucy (or is it Louisa?) says, some­thing is “pro­foundly wrong”.

As in­ci­sive a direc­tor as he is a writer, Kauf­man makes hay with his lim­ited bud­get with eco­nom­i­cal, art­ful film­mak­ing, us­ing smart vis­ual de­vices to fos­ter an ac­cel­er­at­ing sense of con­fu­sion and re­al­ity-bend­ing. Lucy’s in­ter­nal nar­ra­tion is some­times in­ter­rupted by ex­ter­nal di­a­logue; cam­era an­gles are dis­ori­en­tat­ing; the ac­tion oc­ca­sion­ally and in­ex­pli­ca­bly cuts to shots of a jan­i­tor mop­ping a school cor­ri­dor, for rea­sons that only be­come clear (or not) later on.

When they fi­nally ar­rive at Jake’s fam­ily farm, the film starts to play like a sur­re­al­ist farce — as if Alejandro Jodor­owsky di­rected Meet The Par­ents. Mum (Toni Col­lette, mak­ing her Hered­i­tary ma­tri­arch look homely by com­par­i­son) is fran­tic, al­ways pulling at her ears, and de­ranged. Dad (David Thewlis) is a lit­er­al­ist farmer with a full-on Lan­cashire ac­cent who thinks “Billy Crys­tal is a nancy”. Both laugh a lit­tle too long for com­fort at ter­ri­ble jokes. Nei­ther seem to age in a lin­ear way.

“There is no ob­jec­tive re­al­ity,” Jake notes at one point, which feels like a man­i­festo for the film, as even­tu­ally ev­ery­thing that might be con­sid­ered ‘plot’ crum­bles. Kauf­man seems un­in­ter­ested in neat nar­ra­tive closed loops, and the third act of­fers none of the jaw-drop­ping big re­veals of the book, end­ing on some­where be­tween a star­tled bang and a con­fused whim­per.

What to make of a film that quotes Tol­stoy and Wordsworth, and ends with an in­ter­pre­tive dance, an an­i­mated ghost pig, and a naked old man cry­ing ? How do you re­view a film which it­self con­tains a film re­view (a scathing ’70s Pauline Kael di­a­tribe)? I’m Think­ing Of End­ing Things feels as much a take on dis­ap­point­ing men and their worth­less lives as it is an in­dict­ment of Hol­ly­wood, Kauf­man in­cluded — but then try­ing to fully un­der­stand it, in tra­di­tional nar­ra­tive terms, is surely just a wasted ef­fort. It’s pos­si­bly Kauf­man’s most chal­leng­ing work yet. Whether that chal­lenge will re­ward you de­pends on your taste and tol­er­ance.

VER­DICT

Bleak, be­wil­der­ing, and a bit bonkers. Kauf­man’s un­com­pro­mis­ing orig­i­nal­ity is al­ways wel­come — but you’ll need time to let this one per­co­late.

The par­ent trap: Lucy (Jessie Buck­ley, sec­ond left) meets her boyfriend’s folks for the first time.

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