It’s actually possible to be too clever for your own good…
While I’m Thinking Of Ending Things is an unquestionably original and unique piece of art, it’s also one of those movies that you need to watch a few times before you know what the hell might have actually been going on. After our now second viewing, we can tell you that we certainly appreciated it…but we’re not exactly sure if we liked it.
After six weeks of dating, Jake (Jesse Plemons, The Irishman) invites his new girlfriend (Jessie Buckley, Wild Rose) to his childhood home for a get-acquainted dinner with his parents (Toni Collette, Knives Out; David Thewlis, Anomalisa). They’ve formed a rare and intense attachment in a short time, and a road trip to the family farm on a cold winter day sounds like fun. But an uninvited thought lodges in the mind of the young woman in the passenger seat; “I’m thinking of ending things.” Though she doesn’t say it aloud, the thought is suddenly so insistent that she’s afraid Jake can hear it in her head. This won’t be an easy ride.
It’s hard to have a frame of reference on this since we’ve never read the book, but I’m Thinking Of Ending Things is a narrative nightmare that tricks itself into thinking it’s brilliant in spite of how good it actually looks.
Don’t get us wrong, there’s some genuine next level artistry here in this film as writer/director Charlie Kaufman adapts the book of the same name by Iain Reid, but it might actually be unadaptable. It’s incredibly dialogue heavy, very dry (especially in the beginning) and plays so awkwardly that we just feel uncomfortable for the first half of the movie. With cinematography from Lukasz Zal and stellar production design this is the kind of movie that would have died a quick death at theatrical but as a streaming offering on Netflix we’re allowed to let it breathe and appreciate the very abstract piece of storytelling that it’s trying to accomplish, even if we think it doesn’t quite work. Sadly with a film like this it all hinges on casting and while everyone involved with this is very talented, they were never quite good enough to carry this very wordy material where there characters just don’t have any actual names.
Jesse Plemons and Jessie Buckley are required to carry the BULK of the dialogue in this and while both are stellar actors, they never quite connect to the audience and are playing it all a little too slightly. This feels like a project that was craving the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman in the male lead and Greta Gerwig in the female lead. It’s trying to be existential mumble core while offering up mediations on life and death. Meanwhile David Thewlis and Toni Collette manage to tear into the material with real vigor as Buckley and Plemons can almost be accused of underplaying the whole thing.
There’s no denying that I’m Thinking Of Ending Things is a highly original piece of art from top to bottom. However, movies that you have to watch multiple times to try and have a chance at understanding can’t in all honesty be called good. It’s a fantastic offering for Netflix as it’ll lend itself to multiple viewings, but would have died on the vine out in the theatrical or VOD world.