Movie Review: Endings
A collision course with death proves to be a pleasant journey in Chris Hansen‘s second feature film, Endings.
Previously, Hansen has directed two comedies — the feature-length The Proper Care and Feeding of an American Messiah and the featurette Clean Freak — but here he slides comfortably into dramatic territory with the tale of a young girl, Emmy (Emma Hansen), a middle-aged mother, Adonna (Ellen Dolan) and a drug addict, Chris (Matthew Brumlow) who all meet on what each of them think is their last day on Earth.
What sounds like a potentially schmaltzy premise is actually handled with a very low-key approach that successfully confounds expectations. There are two main saving graces to the film:
One is that from the outset, Hansen never tips his hand as to what kind of movie this exactly is. Meaning, that most films in which the audience is told in the beginning that a key player, or in this case all the key players, is going to die it’s usually pretty clear what the end result is going to be. For example, main character dies in order to make all the other characters — and the audience — happy to be alive; or main character lives and is transformed into a new, happier person. You know the drill.
But, with some clever structuring and strong character motivations, the ending to Endings isn’t absolutely predictable. The film is basically broken up into fourths where each of the three main characters gets their own strong section setting up their own situations before they all eventually meet up for the film’s final act where they’re all together. Seeing each character in their own individual chunks really lets us get to know and understand each of them as individuals in depth.
Each character’s section also has it’s own tone. Emmy’s situation is a bit whimsical with a slight undertone of real menace. Adonna’s section is on the morose side. Meanwhile, Chris’ story is the most aggressive. Then, when this trio eventually go get to meet up, it’s not entirely in the framing we had been led to believe it was, which is all good for throwing off the scent of what the end may be.
This leads us to the film’s second saving grace: Emma Hansen, who is terrific in what is essentially the film’s lead role. Emma is Hansen’s real life daughter and she has a real easygoing quality for her first starring part. Emmy, her character, is a bit of an enigma, which forces the young actress to take the backseat in her scenes — well, sometimes literally when she’s in the backseat of Adonna’s car — while having to be the film’s main focus. This isn’t a case of a director throwing his own daughter in front of the camera and demanding, “Look at her, she’s a star!” Instead, Emma proves herself to be a serious little actress.
That’s not to knock Emma’s older co-stars, who also put in good performances. The character of Chris the drug addict is a role that easily lends itself to overacting that Brumlow thankfully refrains from. Dolan, who previously worked with Hansen on American Messiah, also sells her character’s difficult motivation for dying by making it believable. However, Adonna’s meekness is an odd match for the few scenes we see her with her overly aggressive husband (Drew Whelpley). Adonna almost appears to be in a borderline abusive relationship, but the film never goes in that direction and she’s apparently a happily married woman despite appearances to the contrary.
The film probably could have withstood a little bit more of a push into even edgier territory and there’s one too many musical montages towards the end. However, overall Hansen does a great job of keeping the plot twisting along with a good amount of real menace and discomfort for his characters so that Endings has a satisfying beginning, middle or end.
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