MOVIE REVIEW: Before We Go
"BEFORE WE GO"-- 2 STARS
Boy, oh boy, it seems like everyone and their brother who are name actors in Hollywood want to step up to the director's chair in the last few years. Since 2013, no less than Joseph Gordon-Levitt ("Don Jon"), Keanu Reeves ("Man of Tai Chi"), Jason Bateman ("Bad Words"), Ryan Gosling ("Lost River"), William H. Macy ("Rudderless"), Seth Rogan ("This is the End"), Russell Crowe ("The Water Diviner"), Jon Stewart ("Rosewater"), and Joel Edgerton ("The Gift") have made the jump to the top job in the feature film directorial debut. Throughout that list, each of those men, to varying degrees, showed baby steps and promise to maybe someday learn, improve, and become the next Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner, Ron Howard, or Ben Affleck as an Oscar-winning actor-turned-director. Some of those men are closer than others. For the new independent film "Before We Go," it's Chris Evans's turn to be be a first-timer. The promise is there, but he has a long way to go.
"Before We Go" premiered in the special presentation undercard section of the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival and got a second public look at the 2015 Seattle International Film Festival. It landed on Video on Demand in July and finally gets a chance to shine in a limited theatrical release starting on September 4. Borrowing way too much from the "Before..." series works of Richard Linklater to be a flattering mild homage or influence, "Before We Go" is a cute, approachable, yet flawed romantic comedy. The weak chemistry can't match an innate charm to honor its simple premise.
Starring as well as directing, Evans plays Nick Vaughn, a busker playing his trumpet late at night at Grand Central Station in New York. He watches a woman rush across the terminal to catch a train to Boston and drop her phone. When she misses the train and circles back, Nick courteously returns her phone and meets the frantic Brooke Dalton, played by Alice Eve. Frazzled after being robbed of her purse at a bar, she is insistent on needing to get back to Boston before the morning. As a Good Samaritan, Nick offers to pay for her cab ride to Boston but his credit cards are declined and his own cell phone is out of battery. With no one else around or willing to help her out, Brooke lets Nick see about getting her purse back and explore a few options he has about wrangling up some money.
Nick's kind assistance works as a bumpier (and highly implausible) "meet cute" between two hopelessly attractive people, especially by rude and crass New York City standards. The two strangers begin a night spent together in the city scrounging with resourcefulness, exploring money and travel options, dodging jams and close calls, exchanging minor flirtation, and sharing revelatory small talk that expands to connective soul-bearing and admissions before the night ends. As sweet and pleasant of a two-character story arc as this film is, we can't help but marvel at how unlikely this would happen in real life. Come on. As charming as this all is, how often are two beautiful people destined to click and need each other at the same time out of nowhere in a big city like NYC?
Shot over the course of 19 days in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the film looks far from amateur hour. "About Time" cinematographer John Guleserian mixes the angles and shots nicely. Sometimes we feel like a voyeur watching these characters occupy the world and other times the camera comes rightly close and creates an intimacy where the big city behind them melts away. As a filmmaker, Evans searched and found some nice spots and takes his time meandering. Nothing about this film is trying to beat the clock. You'll be surprised in the end that only 89 minutes passed.
Chris Evans, as an actor, has a stockpile of charisma and a repertoire for knowing when and how to turn that on and off to suit the need of the scene. He easily could, but doesn't, overact his half of the central couple. Nick's genuine nice guy matches the nice guy you come to expect with the real-life jovial Evans. He holds up his end of the necessary chemistry and keeps "Before We Go" interesting. Sadly, Alice Eve cannot act well enough to maintain her half. Even though she's supposed to be the lost character, Alice herself feels out of her element and outmatched by Evans. Her chemistry feels forced and unnatural. She seems like a pretty face trying to have a personality behind her looks where none is available.
As aforementioned, "Before We Go" comes across as a more-than-minor clone to the 1995 Linklater classic "Before Sunrise." As a first-time director, that's not a bad example for Chris Evans to use as an influence. Those Linklater films are excellent for their improvisational dialogue and sparkling chemistry when you have the right actors, ideas, and performances. "Before We Go" falls short of that high bar. Despite having an Oscar-winning screenwriter and pitch man, Ronald Bass of "Rain Man," hashing out this shared night together, much of the dialogue is clunky, weak, or conventional. Bass's created predicaments and spirited conversations lack a certain sizzle to fully engage us in the idea of Nick and Brooke's sharing of destiny. Even if these two characters stay chaste and true, a good film of this sort at least raises the eyebrow and dangles the possibility of something more than a platonic outcome. By the time you soak all of that in, the clipped, open-ended conclusion will be the final straw of unfulfilled potential. Confidently, "Before We Go" will be a positive learning experience for Chris Evans.
LESSON #1: GO AHEAD AND BE THE GOOD SAMARITAN-- First and foremost, gentlemen, this first lesson is for you. Be the type of nice guy that Nick Vaughn portrays. Offer strangers assistance and help people in need. Give of yourself and expect nothing in return. Do it for karma. Do it for pity or, sure, do it for a girl, but do it because it's the nice and right thing to do. It might not always work, but it's a good character trait to have. More often than not, your offerings will be appreciated and your capacity to offer will make you a better person, plain and simple.
LESSON #2: BEING COMFORTABLE WITH A STRANGER VERSUS MINDING YOUR OWN BUSINESS-- Brooke is a woman stranded alone in the big city without the ability to travel or contact anyone. Even with Nick's open and honest first impression, she is right to veil some secrets until she feels safe. She is right to be in defense mode and rest her case on "none of your business" when Nick offers potentially prying help or insight. As the night progresses, comfort grows and guards are reduced. Both find commonality, shared goals, and, soon, all cards are on the table and trusted oversharing emerges. That's because the magic of Lesson #3 happens.
LESSON #3: FINDING PERFECTION WHILE COMMITTED TO SOMEONE OR SOMETHING ELSE-- Much like the inspiration of "Before Sunrise," Nick and Brooke weren't looking for love or a connection, yet find a mutually intriguing new bond and kindred spirit. The catch is Brooke is committed to someone else. That provokes the moral dilemma of commitment, in that if you have it you don't look for a new one. Can you find love twice? Can you love more than one person? Can a new love be presented before you that is greater than the one you have? If any of that happens, what do you do? The entertainment of their potential spurs big thoughts in both Nick and Brooke of where they go from here, hence that maddening open ending.