Endings, Beginnings

 

          Daphne (Shailene Woodley) is the kind of person who finds herself drifting in her own life.  In the span of one week, she lost her job, ended her relationship with her boyfriend, and moved in with her sister.  Well, actually, the bathhouse of her sister and her husband.  The good news is that she gets along well with them, and adores her little niece.  The bad news is that living there reminds her of how little she's accomplished in her life.  Her best friends seem to be in her drawing group, which meets twice a week to practice their art, but also to talk about their lives.  She admits to them that she doesn't have any direction right now.  She looks for a job in her field---working with art museums in publicity---but it's specialized, and you usually have to know someone to get in.  The "mother figure" in her art group, Ingrid (Kyra Sedwgwick) suggests that she take a sabbatical from men, from relationships, and from everything that's distracting her from finding herself.  She agrees to this, and adds, with her pregnant sister, the promise that she'll quit drinking, as well, at least during the pregnancy.  Sister solidarity, you know.  But Daphne's restlessness prevails.  She meets a guy at her sister's party, and though at first she wants to keep it simple and just talk, she soon succumbs to her previous habits.  She's intimate with him.  And she's drinking again, as well as smoking constantly.  But she tells herself she's happy.  Then, to confuse matters, she meets another man, who's a friend of the first.  And when the first guy goes out of town, well, she quickly gets intimate with the other guy.  When she tells her group about all this, Ingrid asks her what happened to her sabbatical, and Daphne says she wasn't happy being alone.  Ingrid responds, "How would you know?  You've never tried it."  

          Now we have a classic love triangle, which ought to create a lot of tension, but mostly it's just confusion.  And things get even more confused when she discovers she's pregnant.  OK, what happened to clarity of purpose? And why is she still drinking and smoking?  And what has she decided about whom she wants to be with?  Well, the correct Zen answer seems to be that she needs to learn to love herself, and the extension of herself, her baby.  But have we become so individualized that the larger circle of interlocking relationships can easily be ignored?  Daphne decides to try harder to relate to her Mom, who just re-married, to someone she doesn't really know.  It seems the guys in this film are not the decision-makers.  Shailene Woodley is an established actor, she has a lot of screen time, and the camera likes her.  Too bad she doesn't have a better vehicle to display her talents.  This one starts slowly, bogs down quickly, and  trudges along to a dissatisfying conclusion.  

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association