Charlie Kaufman has a lot of wild stuff going on in his head, and fortunately for fans, he enjoys putting some of that wild stuff onscreen. With screenplays like Being John Malkovich (1999) and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) under his belt, Kaufman also took the director’s chair for 2008’s Synecdoche, New York and 2015’s Anomalisa. The former is a heady and fascinating look at identity starring the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman as a theater director whose life and play begin to blur, the latter a stop-motion character study (with puppet sex!) about a misanthropic man who finally starts to connect with another person. Kaufman’s newest effort for Netflix is another deep dive into the mind. I’m Thinking of Ending Things is at times disturbing, at times hilarious, but worth a watch if only for the acting, though one must be prepared for a long, strange trip.
Jessie Buckley stars as a woman traveling with her boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons) to meet his parents, even though—as we hear in her sometimes rambling but always entertaining voice-over—she is considering breaking things off. Dread begins to build as both the snow and the mood get heavier; the conversation veers from their meet-cute to her poetry to musical theater. And it seems like anything would be better than being stuck in this car any longer… until we get to the remote farmhouse where Jake grew up and finally meet the parents. Mother (Toni Collette) is nervous and manic; Father (David Thewlis) is a leering, staring close-talker. But wait—are Jake’s parents getting younger all of a sudden? Or maybe older? And what the heck is with that little basement door with old tape and scratches all over it?
Kaufman’s screenplay is adapted from the highly praised novel by Iain Reid, one of those books that could only succeed on film in the hands of somebody like Kaufman. It also requires actors like Buckley, Plemons, Collette and Thewlis. Plemons is the reigning King of Unsettling, though that reputation can be harmful when it precedes him—one begins to assume that his character will be dimwitted and/or malevolent. But here we can’t help but feel some empathy for Jake, a quirky intellectual who might be dating above his pay grade. We feel empathy or maybe sympathy, at least for a while, until things—as they tend to do in Kaufman’s world—start to get weird. One would expect nothing less.
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