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I’m Thinking of Ending Things – Movie Review

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I’m Thinking of Ending Things – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Netflix

Charlie Kaufman has made a career out of writing stories that send his characters down strange and unexpected directions. The premise often starts out simple enough and then becomes more oddball the further down the rabbit hole we go. I’m Thinking of Ending Things continues that tradition in his work. At first glance, it seems like it will be a take on Meet the Parents, but handled in a more unsettling and uncomfortable manner. However, time eventually starts to unravel and we’re taken on this unusual odyssey. While not all of the creative choices hit, the most successful element comes from Jessie Buckley’s fantastic lead performance.

Buckley’s mostly unnamed protagonist serves as the audience avatar for this snowy car trip we’re thrown into. She makes her a sympathetic figure who is trying to make heads or tails of what’s going on. We feel her uncomfortableness at the events that transpire and the many emotions she’s going through. For a few scenes, her personality even changes and she makes the transition seamless. There is a five minute section where Buckley launches into a spot-on impression of Pauline Kael. It’s remarkable how for that short period of time, any sympathy vanishes as she quotes one of Kael’s infamous tirades. Then as soon as the monologue concludes, she’s back to being likeable again.

Jesse Plemons is also great as her temperamental boyfriend, who presents himself as a know-it-all by constantly spewing facts, even when it’s uncalled for. Kaufman keeps us thinking about his motivations and unusual behaviour. Most of their screentime involves them conversing in the car and these sequences are surprisingly involving. There are two lengthy scenes like this, which come across like one-act plays. Meanwhile, Toni Collette delivers as Plemons’s frequently giggling mother. Any time she walks on screen, we find out something new about her. Less successful is David Thewlis as the father. Most of his performance consists of obvious ticks and the character provides a different grating reaction than was likely intended.

Kaufman successfully connects the main storyline with a janitor just doing his job at a high school. There are also some rather creative sequences like a dance number and an animated segment made to look like cartoons from the 1930s. There are moments in I’m Thinking of Ending Things that do seem like they’re trying a bit too hard. Kaufman thrives on the surreal in his work and there are some headscratchers here. There is so much time spent on analysing the imagery that the plot does sometimes get lost. There are also portions where it sounds less like the characters talking and more like hearing philosophical and analytical essays written by Kaufman.

Charlie Kaufman’s love for playing with the cinematic form does work and he very directly seems to be commenting on the fakery of movies in I’m Thinking of Ending Things. The film is at its best when focusing on Jessie Buckley as she is very much the star of the show and one most viewers will connect with. It’s a complex performance and she more than handles all of the requirements. In seeing the films Charlie Kaufman has directed, it’s hard to deny his ambition and the larger than life ways in which he attempts to tackle his familiar themes.

Stefan Ellison

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