Movie Review: Where We Started
Most cinematic extramarital affairs include two absolutes: One, get to the sex as quickly as possible. Two, concentrate most of the plot around the after effects of the affair. Example, see Fatal Attraction.
For his third feature film, Where We Started, writer/director Chris Hansen uses an unusual tactic: He ignores both of the above absolutes and focuses primarily on the he/she back and forth leading up to the possibility of a little extramarital nookie.
Hansen’s approach, one would have to imagine, is closer to the reality of how true extramarital affairs work, that average American suburban married couples just don’t jump easily into bed with the first available complete stranger. Despite what statistics might say about divorce and infidelity in modern America, or what we see in any given episode of Mad Men, is cheating on a spouse such an easy emotional decision to make?
Hansen bets on that answer being “No,” and has crafted a simple, yet emotionally complex mini-drama.
The use of the term “mini-drama” above is in regards to the (possibly) cheating on-screen couple’s actions not having extreme consequences. Sure, the affair — if it were to be consummated — would have a devastating emotional impact on the people involved, but the larger world by and large would be unaffected and no one, we assume, would end up dead, maimed, etc.
Will (Matthew Brumlow), a married actor/car mechanic, and Nora (Cora Vander Broek), a housewife, meet on their journey through life appropriately at a semi-grimy roadside motel. As these two strangers gradually open up to each other, we learn that both of them, for different reasons, feel as though their lives have hit a standstill, that their youthful ambitions have settled into the daily grind of married couple routines and obligations.
In their mutual dissatisfaction of the universe, they are thus mutually attracted to each other. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that they’re both very attractive people…
So, here they are stuck in their dingy adjoining hotel rooms with nothing to do. Why not start flirting with each other? Clearly, there’s nothing stopping them from enjoying a little extracurricular nookie with their spouses being none the wiser the next day.
However, given their age, approx. mid-30s, and extreme length of time being faithful to their beloved ones, neither Nora nor Will is ballsy enough to come right out and suggest a sexual fling. Instead, there’s a playful back and forth with them that is natural and comfortable, which makes Where We Started an easygoing and easily enjoyed conversational work.
Well, it’s not all easygoing. The drama ramps up in small increments. We understand from the get-go that these are two “good” people with consciences that work given that neither main character propositions the other outright in an aggressive fashion. Therefore, Hansen keeps a steady hand as Will and Nora’s conversation must grow from idle chatter, which too much of will drag down the beginning, to increasingly serious flirtation, which if engaged too soon in the script will drag out the middle section and end. In other words: Too little drama = snoozefest; too much drama = contrivance.
Hansen avoids both through several methods, including making sure his film, which is basically just two people in a motel room, feels cinematic enough. The cinematography by Taylor Rudd has a deep, lush look to it and the camera never settles for the same stock and static set-ups. The camera moves around the two leads — not in a Steadicam kind of way, but in a variance of angles way — as if it is enjoying the dance around them the way Will and Nora dance around the topic of sex.
Really, that’s what this is all about: A momentary act of physical indiscretion that, due to those damned working consciences, makes both characters realize that emotionally their lives will change forever if they give in.
Still, there are plenty of moments that if either spouse found out was going on could possibly lead to divorce anyway. When Will leaves to buy some alcohol — And isn’t booze the perfect ingredient for these kinds of situations? — and comes back with a frighteningly detailed package of concoctions to brew up a “sleep with me” cocktail, yeah, his wife might not appreciate that even if he ends up not “sealing the deal,” as it were. And Nora’s husband most likely wouldn’t be thrilled that she let a man mix that up in her room, even if she wasn’t quite expecting her motel-mate to pull such a slick maneuver.
Therefore, Where We Started isn’t all about the sex, it’s more about the emotional cheating on Will and Nora’s respective spouse. As the strangers’ conversation deepens, what we discover is that both of them don’t want something superficial like a physical act, but are looking to spark up their cold, dead souls that a physical challenge will spin their lives into.
Different viewers will most definitely pick different sides and find themselves aligning with or sympathizing more with either Will or Nora. This reviewer, as his wife usually tells him, tends to align himself with the woman’s POV moreso than the man’s in films like this. Hey, I’m a sensitive guy and Where We Started doesn’t buck my internal tendencies. I found myself enjoying the most the scenes where Nora calls Will out on his BS, exposing a guy who’s been looking to be bad for awhile, but has only just now found a potential willing accomplice in the perfect situation.
Of course, Will is not a bad person, he’s just allowing himself to slide down into a negative way of thinking. But, what’s most interesting about the entire film’s situation is what neither character can quite bring up: Perhaps Will and Nora’s adult lives are so depressing to them because they don’t make the aggressive moves. They can’t forthrightly ask a stranger to sleep with them, nor can they be truly honest with their spouses back at home, nor, even, with themselves.
Watch the Where We Started movie trailer: