Review: I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Charlie Kauffman reappears on the scene with his new film I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Matthew Boden gives us his thoughts on the new Netflix Original.
Most people can relate to a strange or uncomfortable experience meeting their partner’s parents for the first time, but this film takes it to another level. Essentially, I’m Thinking of Ending Things sets out to depict what it says on the tin: a young unnamed woman contemplates ending her relationship with her boyfriend Jake while they take a trip together to meet his folks for the first time, and over the course of this premise, many peculiar things take place.
Charlie Kaufmann has made two absolute gems in his career; Being John Malkovich and a personal favourite of mine, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but he’s one of those directors who makes films fairly infrequently and critics have been slightly divided over his two most recent outings (Synecdoche, New York and Anomalisa). In regards to this film, like the two great works mentioned above, it’s wacky and weird and can be largely interpreted by what you bring to it as opposed to any clear and tangible thematic readings. However, the major difference here is that there is very little attempted emotional engagement. Kaufmann seems to be spending most of the time trying to wow you with convoluted plot complexities and weighty ideas rather than touching an internal nerve about relationships and the human condition which he did so brilliantly in Eternal Sunshine.
The film’s wasted potential is frustrating, but what is really gratingly annoying is its self-indulgence, and that fault lies with Kaufmann’s screenplay. The opening sequence shows the two awkwardly conversing on the car journey to Jake’s, and initially the clear lack of chemistry between them is promising in displaying a failing relationship, but it just goes on and on and on for far too long and you already feel genuinely fatigued before the half-hour mark. Similarly, the film’s apparent self-awareness in relation to an extended discussion of John Cassavetes’s A Woman Under the Influence doesn’t work in its favour. Ironically, the car journey and the cinematography showing it is a great metaphor for experiencing the film, as you constantly feel like you’re on the outside looking in.
That’s not to say I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a total dud – as usual, Jessie Buckley puts in a great performance, and the narrative, as well as being thought-provoking at times, becomes much more effective in the final act when it begins to shift from a psychological drama to a more horror-type vibe. Unfortunately, these creepy and compelling moments are outweighed by much longer spells of confusion and, more concerningly, apathy. By the time the interesting narrative developments start occurring, there’s a limit to how much you actually care about the fate of the characters, which holds the film back massively.