A young woman (Jessie Buckley) embarks on a wintery road trip with her new boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) to meet his parents (Toni Collette, David Thewlis) — while she thinks of ending things. But just what she’s considering ending grows increasingly unclear as reality’s grip peels away and the trip turns into a nightmare where past, present, and future collide.
Few filmmakers leave as distinctive a mark on their work as Charlie Kaufman. The screenwriter turned director, famous for the Oscar-nominated Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, has a preoccupation with the mind’s inner workings that rivals any psychiatrist. His debut film, Being John Malkovich, actually sees his protagonist discover a portal into the Hollywood actor’s brain! And if you think that sounds odd, you’re in for a surreal 135-minutes with his Netflix release, i’m thinking of ending things.
Kaufman has found some truly outside-the-box ways to tell his stories, and i’m thinking… takes this up a notch. What seems like a simple story at first quickly devolves to intriguing, reality-bending confusion. However, it loses a momentum around the halfway mark as Kaufman engages in a few too many symbolic set-pieces that drag on. A modern dance routine towards the end of the film, followed by a song, runs for 10+ minutes, eating away interest in the film’s climax. With a 135-minute run-time, Kaufman could have done with some more liberal narrative editing to maintain the surreal tension and add weight to the end.
The cast is central to everything good about i’m thinking… Female lead Buckley is enigmatic as the young woman meeting her other half’s parents. Plemons has excelled playing cold-hearted sociopaths on quality TV shows, but he leans into this iciness too much as her boyfriend, Jake; we needed warmth to balance Buckley’s fine performance. But the real stars of the film are Collette and Thewlis. Every awkward laugh and heavy-handed topic change was strung out for as long as possible, leaving us squirming with discomfort as the tension built. The pair also seamlessly adapted to multiple roles, shining through whatever layer of makeup or new outfit they donned. Warning for those who have ever had an uncomfortable first meeting with a partner’s parents and thought they were over it – Colette and Thewlis’ performances WILL bring back your PTSD.
From the outset of i’m thinking… it’s obvious that Kaufman isn’t here to make things easy on us. Early scenes see the young woman and Jake talking in the car on the way to his parents’ home. Throughout their conversation we cut from the inside of the car to the outside, framing the couple’s isolation. These shots deliberately obscure the actor’s faces and reactions, leaving us feeling something is very wrong. Kaufman also uses disorienting camera angles, and chops between internal monologues and external dialogue, to disrupt reality. Cut scenes of a janitor cleaning a school further distort the logic of what we see and hear, bewildering us more. It’s a distinctive style, the trick repeated again and again once the couple arrive at Jake’s family home. Although the effect isn’t diluted over time, it does smack of arthouse pretentious-ness at the cost of telling an intriguing story well.
Amidst all the head scratching symbolism you’ll likely lose patience with Kaufman’s new film. It suffers the curse of being too smart – and knowing it – which turns potentially great movies bad. You’ll be thinking of i’m thinking… long after it ends. That’s not always good.
i’m thinking… despite an intriguing first half and some intense performances, doesn’t end quick enough. 5.5/10.