TORONTO – Chris Evans isn’t half-bad as a director, it turns out. His feature debut, Before We Go, is about exactly that.
There is a growing discontent among Hollywood’s A-list actors to just
be A-list actors, for reasons that don’t compute for us mortals: They
travel the world pretending to be our heroes, make enough money to work
only occasionally and, as certified Beautiful People, have a license to
date and mate among themselves. Shouldn’t that be enough?
Maybe the Alpha wiring that got them there in the first place
inevitably leads to the need to be in charge, because it sure seems a
good many of today’s top-billed — Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, Ryan
Gosling, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Affleck and James Franco just to
name-drop a few — are dogging second careers as writers, producers and
Evans is just the latest mid-career matinee idol to seek the
“multi-hyphenate” mantle after locking up a lifetime of global
blockbuster fame and fortune. When Marvel signed him as Johnny Storm and
later Captain America, no one would blame him for spending his free
time, if not the remaining 60 years of his life, kicking it in the
Why Evans is instead slumming it in Canada, premiering a microbudget indie on an party’s-almost-over Friday night that arrived at the Toronto Film
Festival without U.S. distribution, only he can explain. (Evans declined
to be interviewed after Mashable saw an early screening and, at the request of its public relations pros, gave some candid feedback).
Before We Go, in which Evans also co-stars opposite Alice
Eve, has a lot of things going for it — chiefly Evans, who is always so
at ease onscreen, so full of charm and shucks-y wit that you utterly
forget how famous and good looking and, well, superhero-ey he is. That’s
a good thing, because Evans is offering himself here as a struggling
musician with a sentimental streak, who we first see playing his trumpet
and busking for change in Grand Central Station late one lonely night.
Behind the camera, it’s immediately clear that Evans has an eye for
this: the actors’ lines flow naturally, the shots are varied and
thoughtfully composed, and he tries a few tricks (cutting away to the
actors doing things other than talking while their dialogue flows as if
in voice-over, for instance) that feel not gimmicky, but elemental to
the film’s bleary, out-all-night tone. Evans builds and delivers a few
moments, minor action sequences are smooth and there is a consistency
that suggests vision.
The trouble with Before We Go — and there is plenty of that —
is the story itself, a damsel-in-distress caper. Well, until it quickly
morphs into a race-against-the-clock mystery, then careens into a
vague, opposites-attract rom-com going through a long-shot redemption
phase before finally settling on being just a really drawn-out meet-cute
that may or may not actually develop, no spoilers here.
In other words, yeah. It’s a bit of a mess.
We start with Nick (Evans) solemnly playing his trumpet when a
well-heeled blonde (Eve), racing to make a train, drops her cell phone
at his feet. He scoops up the broken fragments and chases her down,
finding her desperate and shattered-looking, and for good reason: Her
purse has been stolen, her phone is now in pieces and she just missed
the last train to Boston, where she really, really needs to be.
Though she has no idea what to do next, she forcefully declines
Nick’s offer for help and wanders out into the night, not getting too
far before rolling up on a trio of stumbling young men who are leering,
pointing and drunkenly giggling at the wayward WASP. You half expect
them to get clobbered by a red, white and blue shield – and you’re half
right, because Nick shows up, puts his arm around Brooke and briskly
walks her past the danger.
“You didn’t think I’d pass up the opportunity to be a hero, now did
you?” Evans later says, an effective tension-breaker for the Marvel fans
in attendance, probably something Evans improv’ed or later baked into
the script (by a four-headed hydra of screenwriters, who include the
executive producer and two co-producers, in case you were wondering why Before We Go is a bit of a tangled knot).
Nick talks Brooke into at least letting him try to recover her purse,
and thus begins the “caper” portion of the program — it’s well past 1
a.m., neither of them has anything better to do and anyway, he’s being
Charming Chris Evans, so why not?
But the Case of the Missing Purse is merely the first of their many hole-in-the-bucket chain of problems: They need money, she is hiding
some kind of secret as to why she’s in New York in the first place (and
needs to get home before sunrise to save her marriage), and did he
mention that he’s in town to try to rekindle a long-dead flame at a
wedding reception that’s — well look at the time — still going on?
Instead of adding up to something, each of these micro-conflicts (and
more) is conveniently settled, leaving us at one point with two people
who vaguely know each other, aimlessly wandering around New York City
(and it’s astounding how much they’ve been able to pack into what’s
presumably been all of two to three hours — shouldn’t the sun be up by
Credit is due that these are two sharply written individuals who have
chemistry they can’t deny, but nothing like the life circumstances to
match, a thing that happens more in life than the movies. If their
conversation were of a certain youthful, intellectual exuberance, or
were we not already made to care (and then not care) about the missing
purse or the passage to Boston or the Old Flame, this could be a sort of
modern, more grown-up Before Sunrise.
But alas, that train has long left the station.
The good news is, there was a warm, unoccupied hotel room at their
disposal all along via the wedding party, and though they eventually go
there, whether or not they’re going to, you know, go there is the last remaining suspense in Before We Go.
But by now, it’s too late — all we ever wanted these two to do was
get a room, and with the sun squeezing through the blackout curtains and
both Nick and Brooke wistfully taking stock of their very different
lives, we’re too exhausted to much care whether they fish or capsize the
RadiusTWC, an offshoot of The Weinstein Co., bought Before We Go
at Toronto before its Friday night premiere (and before any reviews
were allowed to post) for what was reportedly a robust seven-figure
deal. With Evans and Eve in the description, it should have some luck as
a VOD title — with some limited theatrical play, most likely — for a
company that knows that business model well. And good for Evans.
It’s a mixed start for him as a director, but the upshot is that he
didn’t screw it up; in fact, he may have rescued a flawed concept with
some touches that make Before We Go ultimately watchable, at
least. Here’s hoping he can temper his admittedly strong sentimental
streak when choosing his next project to helm.
Or he could just stick to acting. He’s really quite good at that.
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