'Before We Go': Chris Evans' Directorial Debut Lacks Visual Flair
Two common trends converge in Chris Evans' directorial debut "Before We Go." On one hand we have a prominent actor turning into director and acting in his debut of the latter job. On the other hand we have a romance in the vein of the "Before" trilogy (the title of Evans' effort does not even hide its inspiration). This is by no means a bad thing. Richard Linklaters' masterworks are among the finest films of recent years and many actors that turn into directors do a rather good to great job.
Unfortunately for Evans, he can conjure up neither success in the case of his opening film.
Nick and Brooke meet in Grand Central Station one night. She has just missed her train back to New Haven and he is playing the trumpet in preparation for the biggest audition of his life. She drops her phone and he does his best to help her, but unfortunately he is poor, has no working credit card and his phone is out of battery. Brooke has had her Prada bag stolen and with it all of her means for survival. And her phone is broken.
So with nothing to do the two start walking around the city trying to go on a variety of different missions that propel both characters toward facing their own internal conflicts. And what conflicts they are. On one hand Nick is afraid to meet the girl that broke his heart six years ago while Brooke has to get back to Boston before her husband for reasons that she explains rather late in the game. Evans is likely looking to create some suspense here, but the reality of the situation is that the audience members have trouble investing in the conflicts of the two central figures without sufficient details.
In many cases withholding information is a strong narrative device, but in this case, when the information trickles in slowly, the audiences winds up frustrated at the experience more than deeply involved. When Brooke states that she has to go back to Boston before her husband, the audience is left wondering why. She claims that her marriage is about to go over the deep end if she does not make it, but without the full details it becomes a vague notion and unfortunately makes it hard for the viewer to care. After all, what could be so bad? It turns out that there is a lot wrong with Brooke's life, but the revelation comes so late in the game that at that point the viewer cannot help but feel annoyed with her indecision rather than feel for her plight. The attempt clearly is to withhold information from the audience to keep them interested, but that is the point -- the viewer is curious to know the details but hardly empathetic toward her plight.
As for Nick, his conflict is presented in a similarly choppy way, but the situation is even more crippling for the film. He is avoiding a reception because he is afraid to face the former love of his life. Again the audience has no idea what could be so horrid that he cannot get over his ex-girlfriend; when he makes his revelation, the audience feels for him somewhat before becoming increasingly frustrated with his repeating the same frustration again and again.
Evans surely does the best he can and as with any directorial debut, there are faults to be found. Execution can be a bit wayward such as the constant cutting to the characters' backs as they walk and talk (or sit and talk) which takes the audience out of the intimate interactions, but the two leads do their best with the material that is given to them; judging from previous comments, the material is unfortunately not great.
Dialogue is old-fashioned and stilted and unfortunately does not fit the world of contemporary New York. As a viewer, you can almost imagine the ensuing moments in a conversation long before they happen. Nick's constant "I have an idea" grows into a series of repetitive circumstances that only lead to more exaggerated situations. There are many attempts at levity, but few actual work as intended.And quite frankly, the whole "get the bag" narrative winds up being filler (it gets dropped the moment the characters fail to retrieve it for the first time) for an already overlong 89-minute film.
There are a few genuine emotional beats between the two actors, particularly when they talk to their past selves on a payphone. Many will find the romance strained and contrived, but that is not a cardinal sin. The two go through a great deal together and certainly form a bond based on respect and trust that in such extreme circumstances is credible enough.
What is not credible is how poorly shot New York City is. This might be the film's biggest issue of all. Evans, likely on a small budget, shoots in rather unknown parts of the city, often making the viewer wonder whether it needs to be set in New York at all. Second Unit images of iconic buildings and sites are shot with rather awkward handheld images that shake uncomfortably.
Evans also has a propensity for reverting to indie rock music to do the emotional heavy lifting, a tool that the audience is immediately aware from its opening section to its climax. It's Mickey-Mousing at its most blatant and unfortunately, it rarely works.
The acting is solid enough, but Alice Eve and Evans cannot conjure up sufficient chemistry to overcome the scripts problems. They feel awkward initially, which is understandable between two strangers, but they never seem to find that comfort that makes the audience fully accept them as would-be lovers.
Will People Like it?
"Before We Go" is a nice indie movie to be sure and audiences looking for an old-fashioned romance might find it attractive. However those looking for a more polished and emotionally fulfilling ride will be in for a disappointment. It isn't "the biggest loser in New York City" as Brooke calls Nick at one point, but it certainly is not the heroic work that Nick claims he wants to do.
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