I'm Thinking of Ending Things
Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemmons star as a badly-matched couple in Charlie Kaufman's I'm Thinking of Ending Things.
Charlie Kaufman has long been Hollywood's master of the weird and disconcertingly well-scripted.
From Being John Malkovich to Synedoche, New York, he often probes what is possible to put on the screen.
His new Netflix movie, I'm Thinking of Ending Things, is initially a more understated affair and less bizarre than those.
Its central character is Cindy (Jessie Buckley), an undergraduate who has embarked on a spontaneous, and perhaps ill-advised, romance with mature student, and extremely dull man, Jake (Jesse Plemons), with whom she has to go on a road trip to see his parents.
The set-up, adapted from Iain Reed's debut novel, is brilliantly banal but emotionally resonant.
Every requested track on the car's tape player, awkward soliloquy and glance out the window will remind many people of the downside of young love.
It's not all about being struck by Cupid's arrow and intense desire. It can also mean a boring, badly-matched boyfriend (or girlfriend, but not in this case) who seemed nice at the time but probably is not a keeper.
When they arrive at Jake's mum and dad's rural home, his overbearing parents - brilliantly played by David Thewlis and Toni Collette - embarrass their son with their keenness, which hints there may be deeper struggles behind his stolidness.
Other than pop culture interludes, such as a daydream featuring a fictional romcom directed by Robert Zemeckis, there's little in the film's first half to tell you this is a Kaufman film rather than an understated actor-driven drama.
But in its third act, he moves towards his trademark fantasy sequences and onscreen existential ruminations - with both turning an initially unnerving film into a troubling psychological horror.
Sometimes, despite moments of genius, Kaufman's visionary explorations can prove too much.
His best films - Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - have a grounding in reality that tie his flights of fancy to something, rather than letting the plot and themes drift confusingly off.
I'm Thinking of Ending Things is of that ilk - mainly thanks to its cast and their delivery of a darkly funny script.
You don't have to follow every diversion to be invested in the terribleness of Cindy and Jake's relationship, and the outcome of their road trip - whether she will get to "ending things" or make what is clearly a bad choice in the long-term by taking the path of least resistance.
One can also pity Jake and feel for him, thanks to Plemons' creepy but sympathetic performance.
Buckley, meanwhile, shows the same qualities as a determined but apprehensive character. Meanwhile, Thewlis and Collette are grimly hilarious.
Ultimately, I'm Thinking of Ending Things is very much a Charlie Kaufman film. That's the best and perhaps the only way to describe it, as with most of the movies he has written the script for or directed.
It won't be for everyone, certainly in its more out-there moments, but the performances of the cast mean there's plenty to like, even for those who can't get fully on board with its director's unique style.
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