For as long as romantic movies have been around, there has been the “brief encounter” film, a story where two characters meet by chance and share an incredible connection. But circumstances prevent them from being able to fall in love despite the fact that it seems the universe was made for them to meet. And in these movies, the characters assess their lives and the decisions that led them up to this point while trying to figure out what comes next. Brief Encounter was released in 1945 and starred Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard. But we’ve seen a surge of these kinds of movies for decades. Annie Hall is one of the most intriguing variations. My Night at Maud’s is another. But this type of film really sparked in the 1990s, particularly with Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise. Then came Lost in Translation, Before Sunset, Before Midnight, Once, Museum Hours, Last Chance Harvey, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, and now Before We Go.
Before We Go is directed by Captain America himself, Chris Evans. Taking an incredible step from the action blockbusters that have propelled his career, Evans casts himself alongside Alice Eve for a small, tender, raw looking Indie film about two characters that meet through unexpected circumstances and share a brief night together that allows them to reassess their lives, get into wacky adventures, and maybe fall for each other.
Evans plays Nick, a trumpet player visiting New York to audition for a band and to maybe see his ex-girlfriend who he has been fantasizing about rekindling with for six years. Eve plays Brooke, an art consultant who has lost her purse and is desperately trying to make the last train back to Boston. Brooke misses the train but is in enough distress for Nick to want to offer a helping hand. Since Brooke is stranded until the next morning and Nick seems too confused to sleep, the two spend the entire night together around New York.
In order for a movie like this to work, there has to be two things: 1. Chemistry between the leads and 2. A sense of authenticity about the characters; in other words, they have to feel like real human beings. Before We Go tends to succeed and fail in about equal doses but in the end, I found it to be a nice feel good romantic movie that felt at least as if it had the best of intentions. It doesn’t always work but at least it doesn’t stink of superficiality.
Chris Evans and Alice Eve share a good amount of chemistry. They are awkward together at first, and there are even moments when you think they could easily say good night and go about their separate ways. But circumstances keep them together, circumstances that are a little too contrived at times, but you go along with it anyway. The events that the characters get into, like going into a sweatshop to find Brooke’s purse, or performing a duet at a party they just crashed, are silly and feel like something that would only happen in the movies. But when the film hits at the core of the characters and explores what is really bothering them, the story gets interesting.
Of course, both characters are really just hung up over people who may not be the best for them. Unlike Before Sunrise, where the characters fell in love because the two of them were able to share in their confusion at life, their circumstances back home, and what they want for themselves, Before We Go is really all about two characters who failed at love and don’t know what else to do with themselves. For those of us who are struggling with far more tiresome issues like finding a better job or trying to pay rent, it’s easy for us to scream at the screen, “Just get over yourselves and move on.” But Before We Go brings up interesting ideas about the nature of romance in a time where romance seems like a forgotten notion. The script understands that practical decisions tend to knock a person off the romance cloud back into reality. And yet, the script still wants us to believe in that romance cloud, that it is possible for two people to love each other no matter what, and nothing else matters.
As the film goes through schmaltzy scene to the next schmaltzy scene, I began to wonder if this film was more of a romantic fantasy Chris Evans may have had at some time or the other. Then I realized every guy I know including myself dreams of meeting a girl and spending the night with her in the way that Before We Go portrays. And taken as a kind of non-sexual fantasy, but one where a guy and a girl meet by chance and are able to share an instant connection as if they found “the one,” Before We Go is actually a pretty accurate and enjoyable piece of entertainment.
Chris Evans also shows a few strengths as a director. For one, the raw style of the film allows the narrative to feel authentic, even if we know the script doesn’t feel like it could happen in real life. He knows how to maintain a consistent tone with music and silence. And since he’s in every frame of the picture, he lets the people on set do their job. Before We Go won’t turn heads like Gone Baby Gone did for Ben Affleck. But this is by no means a disaster in the way it’s been for some actors turned directors (ie: Ethan Hawke, Johnny Depp, Nicolas Cage).
Taken for what it is – and it’s no Before Sunrise – Before We Go is a well-intentioned love letter to young love. It doesn’t always work and some scenes are a bit too silly or cheesy to be taken seriously, but for the most part, I enjoyed the way the film portrayed two characters at a crossroads. Love is a big part of their lives, and the idealistic fantasy that the film gets stuck in of two people instantly connecting and sharing an incredibly fun night together is one that many of us romantics dream of having. For that, I can’t fault the film for being silly, just myself for falling for its silliness.