This critic admits his biases. I remind you of this because the directorial debut of Chris Evans (who also stars), “Before We Go”, is firmly in the tradition of one of my all-time Top 5 favorite movies, “Before Sunrise”, Richard Linklater’s strangers-meet-for-one-night-only valentine to the indelibility of young love and the sonic pleasure of cinematic conversation mixed with the visual splendor of an architecturally sumptuous city. That film itself is firmly in the tradition of Judy Garland’s classic “The Clock”. I love that movie too, and I love a good many of their followers, and so if you put one of them in front of me it becomes extremely difficult for my “Before Sunrise”-ish bias not to rear its quixotic head.
So when Pete (Evans), an aspiring musician in the Big Apple for a Big Audition the following day, busking on his trusty trumpet in Grand Central Station, that picturesque haven of inadvertent romantic rendezvouses, has an inadvertent romantic rendezvous with Abby (Alice Eve), I said to Mr. Evans' film in all earnestness, “take me where you want to go.” Unfortunately, for all the shallow focus city lights that make it seem as if New York City is one big Christkindlmarket, “Before We Go” remains devoid of the spontaneity this sort of film requires to render the evening as a sudden and miraculous blessing from on high.
The closest it gets is a nice moment when Pete and Abby masquerade as a jazz duo at some corporate party where they are not supposed to be, making it seem as if they have momentarily stepped into the lives of someone else. Otherwise the script (tellingly credited to four people) is packed with contrivances to keep Pete and Abby together, like maxed out credit cards and dead cell phone batteries, and it is noticeably devoid of authentically reflective conversation. In spite of all this, “Before We Go” comes close to a saving grace.
Films of this kind often have a ticking clock, like a plane that must be caught, but what’s notable about “Before We Go” is how the bomb to which its pre-eminent ticking clock is strapped detonates rather early. It turns out that Abby has left her husband a letter asking for divorce given to his apparently obvious philandering. Now she’s re-thought things, because she really does love him, or so she says, and she needs to get home to get that letter. When she can’t, and when other avenues of preventing its reading come up bust, she’s stuck, literally and figuratively. But maybe she’s not because maybe Pete really is the one for her. Unless Pete's ex who is deciding whether or not to go see is still the one for him.
That’s the thing. Though we’re conditioned to expect that Pete and Abby will wind up in one another’s arms, or will at least exchange phone numbers, “Before We Go” wants to push them apart in the admirable name of loyalty. It yearns to lend legitimacy to leads’ significant others, characters often abandoned in these sorts of movies as nothing more than off screen interlopers, an emotional blockade to what our heroes really want, obstructions easily surmounted when the end rolls around and happiness abides. “Before We Go”, however, wants Abby’s husband to register as authentic, as not merely an impediment to consummating true love with Pete but her actual soulmate. It’s the film’s primary asset; it’s also the film’s most significant flaw.
See, the light in which Abby’s husband is painted remains highly unflattering, portraying him as an uncaring philanderer. She’s supposed to be sympathetic but just seems stupid, sticking out a failing marriage because…conservative values, I guess, or maybe just to render an ending of lovelorn tragedy. And it’s tragic, all right, especially when the sequel comes around – “Before We Go Again” – and Abby runs into Pete at O’Hare International Airport and confesses that going back to her spouse was a huge mistake.