If a film has a dash of romance, a charming-stranger meet cute is practically guaranteed. So in Before We Go—the premise of which is almost entirely centered around a meet cute—director and star Chris Evans had a seemingly endless list of actors he needed to out-dash to make his film special. In particular, he seems to have been gunning for Ethan Hawke: Captain America’s directorial debut borrows heavily from the Hawke-led Before Sunrise. The general premise (swapping Venice for New York to introduce us to the star-crossed almost-lovers) and a sprinkling of details (play-pretend phone calls and a lack of funds forcing the new friends to wander around the city and bare their souls) will seem more than a little familiar, to say nothing of the preposition their titles share.
It took four scripters to crank out this familiar sundae, which they topped with a cherry they cribbed from Lost in Translation. Is their near-reproduction a robbery or an homage?
The film’s raison d’etre ends up not mattering much, because regardless of its similarities to Before Sunrise, it mostly works.
Things start out dicey when guitar-plucking, gentle-voiced, Sundance-esque music accompanies the intro: Get ready for preciousness. In reality, you’re about to get stubborn bitchiness. (Which, for my taste, is much better. I’d rather be irritated by a strong woman than irritated by one who’s trying too hard.) Brooke (Alice Eve) has missed the last train out of Grand Central, has had her purse stolen, and broke her cell phone while running after the train. She’s from Boston and needs to get home. What would you do?
Let a handsome and (surprisingly) harmless busker help you, that’s what. For unexplained reasons—OK, everyone should probably be cautious when approached by a stranger in the wee hours—Brooke refuses to let Nick (Evans) do her any favors. But after slightly cracking the ice, Brooke finds out during a phone call that she really needs to get home ASAP, or at least before her husband does. (You assume—as does Nick—that the husband line is a ruse, but it’s not.) Still, she tells Nick: I don’t mean to distrust you; it’s just that you’re being so nice.
Nick, meanwhile, has his own reasons for sticking with Brooke as she figures things out. He is a good guy, but he’s also avoiding something. Would it surprise you that it’s an ex?
That’s about all you need to set the stage for a night of walking and talking. Though a cadre of screenwriters usually means disaster, the bulk of the dialogue is natural; the rest comprises an overabundance of Nick quips and too-tidy lines such as, “This is about odds, and regret is 100 percent.”
There’s great chemistry between the leads, however, and it’s easy to believe they’d be low-key, goofy friends. Evans’ direction isn’t anything special, but he doesn’t do anything wrong, either: lens flares here and there, close-ups on faces when one of them is being serious… the usual rom-com stuff.
Of course, the possibility of a sequel is left open. The Hawke–Julie Delpy films were beloved, but just once it would be nice if a studio let us enjoy the company of two charismatic people for 90 minutes and left the last-scene mystery open for us to fill in. We don’t have to revisit Nick and Brooke in six months or 10 years, ad infinitum. Like when best friends consider a romance but instead go their separate ways, this pair’s outing will be remembered as a high note.
Alex Gibney, on the other hand, takes a thorough look at a supposedly fantastic romance that’s gone south: We’re so worshipful of a certain person, we gloss over his not-so-great side. But the director’s about to draw back the curtain and bring him down—hard.
To wit: What would you think of an able-bodied, stupendously wealthy man if he habitually parked in handicapped spots and fought viciously to get out of paying child support?
What if the guy was also responsible for creating your iEverything?
Gibney’s Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine is the film version of that near-universal experience of being disappointed when you meet your idol. It’s especially disappointing if you’d seen or heard no evil, but Apple and Jobs had already gotten bad press over allegations of unsafe working conditions and low wages at the company’s Chinese manufacturing plants, and the alleged intimidation and assault of those who breached Apple security. The Daily Show titled a segment on the latter incident “Appholes.”
Yet (most of) the world mourned when Jobs died in 2011, and Apple worship continues apace. Gibney’s goal in this documentary is to figure out why the mourning was so intense and widespread, especially considering that we knew the man was something of a, well, apphole.
The director isn’t terribly successful. It’s not only because Jobs was a man of contradictions—the film portrays a man who had himself been adopted yet later rejected his own child; who meditated and claimed to be enlightened yet was cruel to others—but primarily because the documentary feels like a puzzle whose pieces were forced together by a toddler. Gibney made complex economics both understandable and fascinating in Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, and similarly dissected messy, ugly politics in his Oscar-winning Taxi to the Dark Side. Here, he loosely follows a timeline of Jobs’ career ascent but too often interrupts it with recent footage and facts. Here’s Jobs being good; here’s him being bad.
Gibney leans increasingly on the bad, but that only demonizes Jobs as expected—it doesn’t explain how a technology company and the man behind it became so beloved by its fans that they’re willing to wait in line for hours for the latest gizmo or to have the Apple logo tattooed onto their arms. As Joe Nocera, the writer of an Esquire exposé on Jobs, says, “People didn’t want to hear [the bad stuff].”
Perhaps more damning, a surprising amount of footage used here has already been presented elsewhere—scenes of both Jobs’ product unveilings (to be expected) and previous interviews (not so much). Some stories are worth hearing again, such as the birth of the iPod. And revisiting Apple’s famous commercials—from “1984” to the “She’s a Rainbow” iMac spot to Feist’s poppy ad—brings tiny bursts of marketing joy.
But the patchwork of materials old and new hold your attention mostly because of the Bob Dylan songs that score much of the film. (The mother of Jobs’ first child quotes “All Along the Watchtower,” saying Jobs, a huge Dylan fan, was both a joker and a thief.) Ultimately, not only will Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine not change anyone’s opinion of the giant, it may confuse those wanting to learn more.
Before We Go opens Friday at the Angelika Pop-Up.
Steve Jobs: Man in the Machine opens Friday at Landmark E Street Cinema.