Arriving in theaters shortly after the release of Playing It Cool, Before We Go confirms that Chris Evans, aka Marvel’s patriotic do-gooder Captain America, is cut out not only for amenable superheroism, but for romantic-comedy stardom as well. Unfortunately, his second go-round in that genre is an uneven vehicle at best, beset by both a script that alternates between hokey contrivances and sheer illogicality, and by his own direction. For his first foray behind the camera, Evans exhibits a shaky hand—literally, as his unsteady camerawork turns the proceedings borderline nauseating, and contributes to the general unevenness of this slight NYC-centric riff on Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise.
Following the lead of that spiritual forefather, Before We Go concerns two strangers who meet unexpectedly and proceed to share an evening walking around and talking about themselves, their lives and the various things that brought them to this present moment. Their initial encounter occurs in Grand Central Station at closing time, where Nick (Evans) is playing trumpet for tips from the terminal’s last remaining patrons. Before he can call it a night, Nick’s head is turned when a woman flies past him in a frantic, futile race to make her train, dropping and breaking her cell phone in the process. When Nick retrieves the smashed device, he learns that her name is Brooke (Alice Eve), that she’s had her purse stolen, and that she’s desperate to make it home to Boston before her husband returns to their house the next morning.
In one of many phony plot twists, Nick immediately offers to pay for her cab ride to Beantown, and when that fails—because his credit cards are maxed out and/or expired—he agrees to walk downtown with her in the hope that they might recover her snatched purse. Throwing caution to the wind, Brooke agrees to this (somewhat sketchy) deal, which soon also involves Nick bribing bartenders for information, getting punched in the face by thieves and other assorted shenanigans of an “only in the movies” variety. Before We Go indulges in much meet-cute chit-chat which is supposed to sell the fact that Nick and Brooke are suddenly spending the night together, but their odyssey is so pockmarked by unbelievable developments that it sabotages any sense of reality from their circumstances.
That’s too bad, because Evans, sporting a beard, and hiding his Marvel-mandated muscles beneath a big shirt and coat, exudes an everyman charm that occasionally improves even the clunkiest bit of dialogue, and he shares a natural chemistry with Eve that keeps the film engaging even when plausibility is in short supply. More frustrating, however, is the script’s attempt to drum up suspense by keeping the specifics behind Brooke’s strange marital situation, and Nick’s lovelorn condition, a mystery for the better part of its first half—a device that winds up frustrating and absurd given the amount of time the duo spend talking about everything under the sun except exactly why they’re such sad sacks.
Those revelations do eventually materialize, albeit not before Nick has a run-in with the woman who broke his heart, and Brooke has a series of phone calls with a friend whose aid she needs, and the two of them take turns fighting and making googly eyes with each other. There’s also a bit where the two make payphone calls to their “past selves,” and discover that hotel patrons draw bawdy cartoons on the backs of their rooms’ artwork, and do a number of other overly adorable things that culminate with them exploring their feelings for each other—feelings complicated by their amorous ties to others—in a decidedly swanky hotel room.
If Before We Go is awash in such affected moments, its aesthetics come across as equally mannered. John Guleserian’s handheld cinematography favors tottering close-ups designed to create intimacy and immediacy, but their ubiquity only monotonizes a visual style that calls increasingly undue attention to itself. Still, if one wishes that Evans would have invested some of his Marvel riches in a tripod (at least for sporadic use), his attentive focus on his and Eve’s faces, frequently via long takes, at least demonstrates a sort of directorial respect for cinematic performance. That reverence may not be enough to salvage his less-than-convincing directorial debut, but it speaks volumes about his future filmmaking potential.
Director: Chris Evans
Writer: Ronald Bass
Starring: Chris Evans, Alice Eve, Mark Kassen
Release Date: September 4, 2015