Last year’s release of the third instalment of Marvel’s epic box-office franchise, Captain America – Captain America: Civil War – marks the seventh year that Hollywood actor Chris Evans has been dutifully playing the role of adored superhero in the Marvel Universe. Likewise, the impending release of the latest film in Marvel’s sister franchise, Spider-man, in which Evans also prominently stars, guarantees at least several more years of his participation in these intergalactic-sized productions. However, in the midst of his explosive ascension in Hollywood as one of Marvel’s superhero poster boys, Evans managed to fit in his directorial debut with the independent romantic-comedy, Before We Go (2014), a warmly sensitive, thoughtful narrative depicting a chance yet somehow fatefully divined encounter between two strangers, impressively making its world premiere in the Special Presentations section of the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.
The opening scene of Before We Go shows handsome, well-chiselled, blonde-tressed street-musician Nick – played by Evans himself – busking in Grand Central Terminal before catching sight of a mysterious, lithe, young woman in a distressed frenzy after missing the final train from New York to Boston. Nick blunderingly takes it upon himself to offer relief to the alluring, albeit visibly perturbed stranger – revealed to be married art-buyer Brooke (Alice Eve) – who is stranded in the city with a broken phone and no purse after being mugged. Comically, he first proposes to pay for her taxi fare with a blocked card and then calls a friend for a loan before realising that his phone has in fact died. This encounter sets in motion a 95-minute-long exploration of forbidden love, clandestine relationships and perennial loneliness in modern society through lingering, single shots of the awkward yet affectionate duo who visibly develop intimate feelings for one another, over the course of their happenstance.
Shot in Manhattan’s Lower East Side in less than 3 weeks, the drama is firmly set in the borough’s moonlight-doused, buzzingly urban, intimately deserted streets. Nick and Brooke meander, slowly delving into a space of relaxed, friendly comfort as they begin to form an authentic intimacy – despite the fact that they have merely been in each other’s company for a couple of hours. The film’s writers (Ronald Bass, Jen Smolka, Chris Shafer and Paul Vicknair) offer a witty, pleasant yet raw narrative that forces both characters to expose tumult of emotional entanglements and extant hardships, compelling both of them to candidly face the reality of their tricky predicaments. Nick and Brooke entirely bare themselves to one another without any pretense, by vulnerably offering their exposed, unadorned selves for judgement – a charismatic process that is intensified by the electrifying chemistry between the lead actors.
Throughout the film, the ‘couple’ are shown engaging in a night of exultantly laughter-effused, adrenaline-pumping revelries, ranging from an escapade in a sweat shop in the effort of tracking down Brooke’s stolen bag and a jaunt at a wedding where they performing My Funny Valentine, to a brief yet intense moment at the hands of a physic. While it cannot be overlooked that the drama staunchly adheres to the predictable, hackneyed, rom-com format without offering a palpable hook that strongly captures the audience’s imagination, Evans certainly takes a sensitive, gentle approach to the narrative that is wholly charming.