'Before We Go': Toronto Review

Before We Go
Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
An unmemorable night out in the Big Apple

First-time director Chris Evans stars alongside Alice Eve in this nocturnal odyssey of two strangers in New York

If you’re going to make an ultra-naturalistic, two-character, walking-and-talking romance that tips its hat to Before Sunrise, the film that began Richard Linklater’s exquisite trilogy, then it’s best to avoid a script loaded with contrived situations and overwritten dialogue. That’s the obstacle that hobbles Before We Go, Chris Evans’ wispy directing debut, almost from the start. Bland characters don’t help much either. Still, this Toronto Radius pickup makes New York City look nearly as pretty as the two leads, which might give it minimal cachet as a date movie — or at least a date VOD.

Working from a screenplay co-written by Ron Bass (Rain Man), Evans has surrounded himself with an accomplished craft team. That includes cinematographer John Guleserian, whose limber camera conducts a love affair with the nighttime locations, and editor John Axelrad, who brings gentle, fluttering rhythms to the action that further the script’s real-time illusion. But a nice-looking package will only get you so far, and the insubstantiality of this actor-driven exercise makes it seem simultaneously modest and a vanity project.

Evans may have cast off his Captain America suit, but he’s fashioned himself another kind of hero in beautiful loser Nick, a jazz trumpeter with a heavy heart. We can’t hear him beneath the soundtrack’s first melancholy blast of indie rock, but we see him busking in the halls of Grand Central Station when gorgeous art consultant Brooke (Alice Eve) makes a dash for the last New Haven train. Her obvious distress upon missing it prompts him to put his woes on hold and rescue a lady in a jam.

Turns out well-heeled Brooke’s Prada handbag was stolen with all her cash and cards, and she broke her cell phone running for the train. While she’s somewhat abrasive in response to Nick’s initial attempts to help, his gallantry won’t be deterred. It seems anything is preferable to the prospect of a party where the ex for whom he still carries a torch has shown up with another man on her arm.

So begins a nocturnal odyssey that’s basically “Strangers in the Night,” heavy on the “doo-be-doo-be-doo” part. Whether the film is in sexy-flirty mode, or whimsical and funny, or if it shifts into needling banter or painful emotional disclosure, there’s a weightlessness to Before We Go that makes you wonder if it might just float away.

The script concocts various ways — many of them transparently phony — to keep the two of them together and talking long enough to reveal their respective struggles and sorrows. There’s an abortive bid to retrieve Brooke’s purse from a Chinatown fencing operation, an improvised ploy to raise carfare by posing as the musical entertainment at an upscale hotel reception, and a mood-deflating visit to the party Nick has been avoiding, where he encounters his former flame, Hannah (Emma Fitzpatrick).

In an effort to up the stakes with some dramatic urgency, a real reason emerges why Brooke needs to be home by morning. That prompts much soul-searching about her marriage and whether or not it’s worth saving.  Likewise, Nick faces personal truths about his lingering emotional impasse and the crisis of confidence that could affect his chances at an important audition the next day.

Both actors are appealing. They show as much depth and sensitivity as is probably possible with these thinly conceived roles, and their easy rapport makes the instant connection credible. But the characters' problems and fears are not complex enough to be engrossing, and ultimately, they never become much more than a windily contemplative extension of a meet-cute scenario. When a twinkly-eyed old storefront psychic (the always reliable John Cullum) tells Nick and Brooke he sees a future together for them, it’s difficult to share his investment.

Production companies: Wonderland Sound and Vision, RSVP Entertainment
Cast: Chris Evans, Alice Eve, Emma Fitzpatrick, John Cullum, Mark Kassen, Elijah Moreland
Director: Chris Evans
Screenwriters: Ron Bass, Jen Smolka, Chris Shafer, Paul Vicknair
Producers: Chris Evans, Mark Kassen, McG, Mary Viola, Karen Baldwin, Howard Baldwin, William J. Immerman
Executive producers: Peter Pastorelli, James McGough, Ron Bass
Director of photography: John Guleserian
Production designer: Theresa Guleserian
Costume designer: Anney Perrine
Music: Chris Westlake
Editor: John Axelrad
Sales: CAA, WME, Sierra/Affinity

No rating, 93 minutes