Even with theaters re-opening, there are still many options on where to stream movies at home. I caught up with the new film from Charlie Kaufman, available on Netflix.
Who would have thought that Being John Malkovich would end up being Charlie Kaufman’s most normal movie?
Kaufman burst on the scene having written the screenplay to Spike Jonze’s fantastic 1999 comedy about people getting the opportunity to spend five minutes in the head of John Malkovich. From there, his screenplays (Adaptation, Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind, & Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind) got weirder and more wonderful. As a director, his two films (Synecdoche, New York and Anomalisa) showed that he was just as weird and wonderful behind the camera as he was behind his computer.
All of Kaufman’s efforts try and look at the human condition, only twisting it through his kaleidoscope lens of chaos so we don’t really know what the hell we’re watching. If he wants to make a movie about relationships, he’ll bring in puppets. If he wants to talk about how art and life intersect, he’ll have actors playing actors. If he wants to adapt a book about plants, he’ll write himself and his (fictional) twin right into it. It’s not to say that Kaufman isn’t interested in storytelling, he just doesn’t give a shit what kind of story you want him to tell.
And that brings us to I’m Trying To End Things.
Adapted from Iain Reid’s acclaimed 2016 novel, I’m Trying To End Things tells the story of a young woman (Jessie Buckley) and her boyfriend, Jake(Jesse Plemons), on a visit to see her parents for the first time. The woman (whose character is credited as “Young Woman” lets us know through her inner monologue that she’s getting ready to end her relationship. She tells us this over and over and over again.
Because this is a Kaufman script, things start to go sideways when they arrive at the house of Jake’s parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis). There’s a picture of Jake as a child that the young woman believes is her. Characters change in age from scene to scene, or sometimes within the same scene. It seems like they want the young woman to stay, then go, then stay again. And when they finally leave the farmhouse of Jake’s parents, things get even more weird.
That’s about as linear as I’m Trying To End Things gets, and we’re not even halfway done.
Is it possible to understand what this film is about? I mean… maybe. When I posted on twitter that it took me 132 minutes to watch this movie and will take another 400 for someone to explain it to me, I was met with friends trying to break everything down for me. In reading their interpretation, all I could think was, “I guess this is what the film could me about… but it could also be about 20 to 30 other things.” Kaufman is an expert at asking the audience to do the heavy lifting, and has always claimed that he doesn’t have an issue letting people get whatever they want from his movies.
Because of this, if someone asks is the story of this film good, the only answer is… “Who knows? Fuckin’ maybe?” And this is something which is troubling for me, because story is a major reason I love movies. But with I’m Trying To End Things, like all of Charlie Kaufman’s movies, it’s not just about what the story is, but about how the story is being told.
As a mood piece, this film works splendidly. Buckley, known best for last year’s Wild Rose, is fantastic in this. When we’re confused, she’s right there with us, making her a fantastic conduit to view Kaufman’s story through. The other major cast members are also fantastic. There’s something about the Collette-Thewlis-Plemons family dynamic that feels strange and alien while also so familiar all at the same time.
And Kaufman is coming into his own as a director. He’s able to create tension at a dinner table or in a car. He’s able to create a perfect tone for how we’re feeling, and this film needs to do that because it has to succeed as a mood piece moreso than it does as a straight script.
Is I’m Thinking Of Ending Things a good movie? Honestly, I’m still not sure. But it’s a wildly effective mood piece that has me thinking about it nonstop since I saw it this afternoon. It’s a film that demanded I put my phone down and pay constant attention to it. It made me question what I was seeing no matter how hard I thought I was paying attention.
That’s more than I can say about most movies I’ve seen this year. And Kaufman is the expert on having us look through ordinary elements of life through complex premises. What I can say about this movie is that it is special… and, in a way, that’s a lot more impressive than being “good”.
I’m Thinking Of Ending Things- 8.5/10