Charlie Kaufman may very well be better and smarter than us, but man is it annoying when he rubs our faces in his self-proclaimed brilliance. In adapting the 2016 novel by Ian Reed, his "I'm Thinking of Ending Things" is inaccessible, gloriously bland and shamefully pretentious at only a level that Kaufman could ever possibly reach.
Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons give tremendous performances, and on their backs, the movie draws you in. A good third (or more?) of the painfully slow "I'm Thinking of Ending Things" takes place between the two actors, in a car with nearly nothing else discernible to look at, outside of the snowy weather around them.
Lucy (Buckley) is thinking of ending things with her new boyfriend, Jake (Plemons), whom she met just six weeks earlier. When the film begins, they are on their way to visit Jake's parents (delightfully wacky David Thewlis and Toni Collette), and things feel a bit - off - simply by the pacing of the film. Written and directed by Charlie Kaufman (known for his "high-brow" work on "Being John Malkovich," "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," "Synecdoche, New York" and "Anomalisa"), the opening car ride sequence takes a good 20 minutes, and immediately puts the viewer out-of-step with our "normal" expectations for a movie. But it's not until they arrive at Jake's parents' home when things really start to get weird.
Forget the claw marks on the basement door...that's the least strange thing going on here. Time shifts and flows, as an otherwise uneventful family dinner becomes creepier when the parents seem to age. In some scenes, they're younger, in some they're older. Lucy doesn't seem to care all that much...she's in a daze of some sorts. She notices a baby picture on the wall...of herself. Jake explains that's a picture of him as a baby. Huh?
All the while, the movie cuts away to focus on an old high school janitor (Guy Boyd), and we don't quite know how he connects to the story. Eventually, we wonder if there is a story at all, or if this entire experience is just Kaufman's way of fucking with the audience.
By the end, I proclaimed that I'm just done with Charlie Kaufman. I'm over it and over him. Is his latest film genius? Is it some sort of abstract piece of art? I must confess, the movie critic muscles in my body are twitching, as I feel I'm resisting a primal urge...this is the type of movie that I feel like I should applaud, and hold up as a great achievement of some kind.
But unfortunately for Kaufman, a structural narrative is inherent in the medium of film...this isn't an experimental film festival entry, or a mood piece (or is it?). It's a movie available to mass audiences on Netflix. With its audience in mind then, "I'm Thinking of Ending Things" is an epic failure - not an accomplishment - if you have to run to Google after watching it to learn what it was about or provide a basic modicum of context. A film should stand on its own. Worse still, you might not even care what it's really all about, because other than watching some mesmerizing performances, there is nothing - and I mean nothing - to give a damn about.
Kudos to Kaufman for showing once again he's the smartest guy in the room, but at this point, he can have the room to himself.
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller.
Run Time: 2 hours and 14 minutes.
Starring: Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette, David Thewlis, Colby Minifie.
Based on the book by Ian Reed.
Written and Directed by Charlie Kaufman ("Anomalisa," "Synecdoche, New York").
"I'm Thinking of Ending Things" is available on Netflix as of Friday, September 4th, 2020.
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