It’s been a while. About 18 years or so. Hope you’re doing well. I’m happily married, no kids, nice house, great job. Great life, actually. How about you? I’ve often wondered what you’ve been up to. I googled you once, about ten years ago, but came up empty, and I’ve since forgotten your last name. But that one intense and adorably chaste night we spent together is still vivid in my memory. Do you remember it as fondly as I do?
We met-cute at about 2:00 am on a Saturday night in 1997 when you noticed me struggling to escape through a trap door in the basement of the bar where I worked. I was ducking out to avoid a guy I’d been dating; he was incapable of gracefully accepting our break-up. You pulled me out of a literal hole in the wall and recognized me as the bartender who had been shamelessly flirting with you all night. It seemed like fate, so we spent the night wandering the city and falling in the kind of love only early 20-somethings and Hollywood screenwriters believe in (the kind who write movies I usually hate).
As a self-identifying cynic, by-the-numbers romantic movies invariably induce my gag reflex. But my fond memories of our single, cinematic evening together made me fall for the premise of Before We Go. If I hadn’t lived such a similar experience, I’d probably dismiss the film as a blatant rip-off of the Before _Sunrise trilogy, rather than the charming homage I believe first-time director Chris Evans intended it to be. I found myself completely enchanted by the rhythms and complications of two strangers reluctantly falling in love.
When we met we were both 24 years old, and neither of us had been around long enough to have real baggage. But the leads in Before We Go are a bit older and have a lot more to lose, making their night fraught with tension. Nick and Brooke meet as Grand Central Station is closing for the night. Brooke has had her purse stolen, broken her phone, and missed the last train back to Boston. Nick is killing time while he decides whether or not he should attend a wedding reception where he knows his ex will be. Nick offers to help get Brooke back to Boston before 7:00 am, because she has convinced him that her life – and broken marriage – depends on it. While they spend the next several hours trying to get Brooke back home, they bare their souls to one another, and make some serious life decisions in the process.
Let’s face it: if I looked like Rhea Pearlman, you might not have been so eager to pull me out of a beer chute to spend a chilly night wandering through the streets with me. And if you looked like Danny DeVito, I probably would have crawled back in that hole. The plot of Before We Go hinges on the believability of two people being attractive enough to actually fall for each other so quickly. Chris Evans is Captain America and Alice Eve is a petite blue-eyed blonde with girl-next-door written all over her. They’re good-looking, but not in the usual, unbelievable Hollywood way. A lot happens to these two in a scant five hours, but both actors sell the narrative convincingly. You have to really root for these crazy kids in this mixed-up world, or the whole thing doesn’t work, and I wanted to believe that they could fall in love, so the willing suspension of disbelief wasn’t especially hard to muster. Sound familiar?
Evans and Eve are well-paired here, and handle the dialogue-driven film with natural ease and subtlety. Both characters are given equal weight and depth, with neither falling into rom-commy conventions. This makes scenes like the ones where they employ New York City’s dwindling phone booths as “time machines” – where they can talk to their future and past selves – seem more endearing than corny. Evans recognizes that the strength of this film is in the performances, and he doesn’t try to make Manhattan into Manhattan. There are no adoring montages of the city, no unnecessarily complicated shots. This story is about two people, and could have been set anywhere. Like, say Ottawa, in November 1997.
We stayed in contact after you returned home to Toronto. We got back to our regular lives. But after a while it seemed forced, didn’t it? Plans to meet up fell apart—you were busy with school, and I decided to try again with an ex. I think we both knew that wanting to recapture the magic of that one sublime night was futile, and would risk sullying its memory. Before We Go manages to harness that magic and trap it in a bottle at the perfect moment.
I admit, it was difficult for me to approach this film with a critical eye. As much as I’m proud of being able to keep my emotions in check (even, sadly, when it’s to my detriment). Sometimes I can’t help but let reason take the back seat. Nostalgia played a big part of my engagement with Before We Go, but I wasn’t blinded by it. From time to time, letting go of my acerbic tendencies and indulging in my sappy, romantic side pays off.
Thank goodness or I’d still be stuck in that trap door.