Producers: Francis Chung, Robert George and Drake Doremus   Director: Drake Doremus   Screenplay: Drake Doremus and Jardine Libaire   Cast: Shailene Woodley, Jamie Dornan, Sebastian Stan, Matthew Gray Gubler, Lindsay Sloane, Shamier Anderson, Lawrence Rothman, Sherry Cola, Wendie Malick, Kyra Sedgwick and Ben Esler   Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films

Grade:  C-

Drake Doremus’ semi-improvisational approach to screenwriting works nicely when his actors are in tune with it—witness “Like Crazy” (2011), in which Felicity Jones and the late Anton Yelchin got into the spirit of things and became a couple whose interrupted romance one could actually care about.  Unfortunately, his pictures since have been disappointing, and it’s difficult to connect with anybody in this turgid, pretentious portrait of a young woman’s journey of self-discovery.

The woman in question is Daphne (Shailene Woodley), who abruptly breaks off her long-term relationship with Adrian (Matthew Gray Gubler) and quits her job after a one-night stand with Jed (Ben Esler), a co-worker who had apparently used his power over her.  Hoping to change her life, she takes the advice of an older friend, Ingrid (Kyra Sedgwick) and decides to spend some time in the pool house of her married sister Billie (Lindsay Sloane), intending to use the visit to control her drinking and her dependence on men, which she tends to blame on her mother (Wendie Malick), whose inability to achieve stability in her life she seems to be replicating.

But at a New Year’s party she meets two men, each of whom she finds attractive in different ways. Frank (Sebastian Stan) is a rascally fellow who makes no secret of what he finds to his liking, while Jack (Jamie Dornan) is a somewhat stuffy professor who also writes.  And though she isn’t aware of it, they happen to be best friends—a fact that makes the inevitable triangle especially fraught.

The focus is on Daphne’s indecision about which of the men is right, or less wrong, for her.  Her time with the slightly controlling Jack is nice enough, but Frank’s stream of aggressive e-mails and exciting outings are certainly enticing   She sleeps with them both, but still can’t make up her mind.  When she takes a pregnancy test, she can’t be certain about who the father is. 

“Endings, Beginnings” is designed as a portrait of a twenty-something woman at a crossroads in her life, trying to wean herself away from the inclination to make choices that prove emotionally self-destructive.  But the portrait is a muddled one, composed largely of scenes of Daphne meandering about—babysitting children or dogs, jumping from hobby to hobby, doing laps in the pool, looking for a job or simply wandering about aimlessly with a cigarette at the ready.  Cinematographer Marianne Bakke shoots these in a variety of styles, sometimes opting for fairly conventional technique but often going to hand-held jumpiness instead.  Meanwhile Doremus and editor Garret Price eschew logical transitions in favor of impressionistic lurches in time and attitude.

And yet all the tricks fail to get inside Daphne’s psyche.  Despite Woodley’s obvious dedication, the film never helps us to understand the character very deeply; we watch her dispassionately, never really feeling her pain or confusion.  Dornan and Stan, meanwhile, do what’s expected of them—personify men who are more collections of tics than fully-rounded persons.  Sloane and Malick do what they can with their roles.  Alitra Corey’s production design is adequate, as is Philip Ekstrom’s score, but neither offers anything special.

The result is a character study of a confused young woman that in the end proves much less revelatory than one might  hope.