Chris Evans has spent most of the past few years hopping from one Marvel blockbuster to another, and based on the tone of interviews he's given during that time, he's found the whole process fairly exhausting. As such, it's understandable (and perhaps even predictable) that Evans' directorial debut is a small, quiet, character-driven affair. That's a route preferred by a lot of actors-turned-directors, who often seem to drawn to movies in which the characters have a bit more time to breathe. While it's encouraging to see the star of big-budget movies making a tiny little indie film, it would be more encouraging if Before We Go were any good.
The film is an abbreviated love story in the Before Sunset/Brief Encounter mode, detailing a few hours in the lives of two people who meet by chance. Nick Vaughan (Evans) is a struggling trumpet player who spends his evenings busking in Grand Central Terminal. One night, he sees a woman (Alice Eve, Star Trek Into Darkness) drop her phone while running to catch a train. The woman misses the train, but now has an opportunity to have a meet-cute with this trumpet player. She reveals that her name is Brooke, and that she's just been robbed and is essentially trapped in the city with no place to stay. So, Nick agrees to help her look for her purse, and eventually ends up helping her work through a host of additional complications. The start of a romance? Maybe, but Brooke is married (albeit unhappily), which complicates things.
There's a curious conflict between the relaxed nature of the film's tone and the desperate busyness of its plot. At times, it feels as if the film's writers (four different people share screenplay credits) didn't really have much confidence in the idea that audiences would want to spend 90 minutes just hanging out with these people, so they decided to stuff the script with a contrived incidents: Brooke needs to find a way to retrieve a letter to her husband that she regrets writing, Nick needs Brooke to pretend to be a professional jazz singer, Brooke helps Nick navigate a difficult encounter with an ex-girlfriend, a psychic invites the pair in for a free reading... it's an absurdly eventful night, as if a screwball comedy plot has been grafted onto an understated romantic drama.
Then again, maybe the writers had good reason to doubt that the love story (such as it is) would be compelling on its own terms. While Evans and Eve are likable actors, the dialogue they've been given is loaded with cliched sentiment. A sample:
“Why is it that one decision always seems too small to be the biggest decision of your life?”
“I don't know, but sometimes you just have to make the choice and jump.”
“How can one of the worst nights of my life also be one of the best?”
“I don't have to know my future. I'm going to live it anyway.”
“You can't allow the ones you love to determine how you love.”
You get the idea. Suffice it to say that these two aren't exactly Jesse and Celine in the conversation department. As for Evans' direction, well... the best thing that can be said is that he hired professionals and let them do their thing. Cinematographer John Guleserian makes the oh-so-familiar sights of Manhattan at night look as attractive as ever, composer Chris Westlake offers delicate musical accompaniment (though his work is occasionally undercut by bluntly-employed pop songs) and editor John Axelrad's silky-smooth cutting makes the low-budget film look pretty slick. It's a professionally-crafted film, but it's also an incredibly bland one. I respect what Evans is trying to do here, but unfortunately, he's turned in something even more generic than your average Marvel movie.
Before We Go
Rating: ★½ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 96 minutes
Release Year: 2015