MOVIE REVIEW: “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” Doesn’t End A Director’s Cold Streak ★★☆☆☆

GOOD Morning Wilton‘s movie reviewer, Sebastian Hunt, is a senior at Wilton High School who loves film and television and hopes to become a filmmaker himself one day. He’s already gotten a jump start on that, producing his own screenplays and planning on submitting his work to film festivals. You can learn more about Sebastian on GMW‘s “Our Team” page. 

I’ve long since tired of director Charlie Kaufman’s tedious self-loathing routine, yet I was excited for his I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Netflix). It seemed to signal an evolution in Kaufman’s career—starring Jessie Buckley, I’m Thinking of Ending Things marketed itself as a female-led cerebral thriller as opposed to another thinly-veiled attempt at self-therapy.

Buckley stars as an unnamed young woman accompanying her boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) to his family farm. Suffice to say, things get… weird. Plemons’ parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis) appear indescribably off, while Plemons himself declines in attitude and mood. Buckley suspects something has gone awry, perhaps with the fabric of reality itself.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things’ ominous setup certainly gives it the makings of a great film, and a return to form for a talented filmmaker. But I’m Thinking of Ending Things winds up as Kaufman’s worst feature yet; a thuddingly sexist and tiresome failure destined to be worshipped among those who can’t get over how “quirky” it is. True, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is technically idiosyncratic—but its quirks obscure a further purpose, which is as irritably indulgent as one would expect from the director of Anomalisa and Synecdoche, New York.

Buckley is unquestionably terrific; an easy standout among a plethora of talented performers. But Kaufman does her a major disservice. A third act twist recontextualizes the film almost entirely and renders Buckley just an asset to a male-driven story. And not just any male-driven story, a Kaufman-driven story. Kaufman refocuses the plot to deal nearly exclusively with his own insecurities, much like every other film the director has ever produced. I was particularly outraged by this narrative swerve, as I’m Thinking of Ending Things was promoted as Kaufman’s first female-led effort—a departure from the previously problematic depictions of women in his films. Furthermore, Buckley’s character confirms Kaufman’s innate impotence for writing believable female characters. 

Prior to the final 30 minutes, Kaufman’s screenplay teeters on self-parody and hinders a uniformly stellar cast. Perhaps aware of his reputation as a mind-bender, Kaufman appears more concerned with “breaking our brains” than telling a compelling story. Things are made esoteric for esoteric’s sake; bizarre aesthetics are introduced for no apparent reason. It’s especially frustrating because, when viewed in the wider context of Kaufman’s career, I’m Thinking of Ending Things isn’t actually all that complex—it’s probably the most familiar feature he’s produced yet.

Charlie Kaufman was once a great filmmaker. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Adaptation. (which Kaufman penned the scripts for) are each excellent films. Being John Malkovich is loopy, existential fun. But since his crossover into directing, Kaufman has been preoccupied with utilizing cinema as a kind of therapeutic tool, a means to scream about his own demons. And, in moderation, that can be great—some of the best films ever made stem from a director communicating his/her frustrations.

But Kaufman has made no attempt to grow. His three films loop into a giant, circular thematic racetrack; a man unwilling to step outside his personal melancholy. I sincerely hope his next effort takes a right turn, and Kaufman gets his career back on track.

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