Beginners Guide to Endings
About a week or so ago I watched A Beginner’s Guide to Endings, again, hooked by the preview I saw on another movie. The premise seemed fairly simple, Harvey Keitel plays “Duke” White, father to five boys from three different women. Never a success in life or with his sons’ lives, Duke seeks to end it all by hanging himself from the tree in his backyard. Unfortunately the limb breaks and hits him on the head. Yup, even suicide is something he can fail at. Not deterred, he takes noose and tree limb down to the Niagara River and throws himself in to plunge to his death over Niagara Falls. His sons gather at his funeral, “Nuts” (Jason Jones) a failed boxer whose claim to fame is winning all his bouts by disqualification because his opponents always hit him below the belt….; Cal (Scott Caan) the womanizing, irresponsible son; and Jacob “Cob” White (Paulo Costanzo) the smart, straight and narrow son; the three boys from his first wife. Also we meet Juicy or Juicebox (Jared Keeso) another wannabe boxer who just isn’t smart enough to properly operate a juicebox, Duke’s son from a stripper, and Todd (Siam Yu) Duke’s 10 year old son from a Vietnamese affair Duke had, who may or may not really be his. After a fight breaks out between the brothers at the funeral, it’s time for the reading of the will. Uncle “Pal”, Duke’s brother and the local priest played by J.K. Simmons, informs the three eldest boys that Duke left them nothing except a death sentence. Desperate for money when the boys were kids he signed them up for experimental drug testing that has now been discovered to weaken the heart of anyone who took the pills.
The boys now set off with their new leases in life, knowing that their lives are going to be a lot shorter. Nuts returns to the boxing ring to save Juicy from a beating in a fight he could not win. Cal feels it’s time to settle down with the “one who got away” (Tricia Helfer) who didn’t really get away, she got incarcerated…and Cob quits his job and starts to live each day like it is his last, making a bucket list and quickly crossing things off of it. It was interesting to see how each son dealt with their newly expected mortality, and the performances by each really shone through. J.K. Simmons was an excellent thread woven into the stories and lives of each that helped tie everything together, and bring everyone together in the end.
The movie was shot in and around my home town of St. Catharines, Ontario (the city got a “thank-you” in the credits) with a lot of scenes naturally being shot in Niagara Falls (a lot on Clifton Hill for those of you familiar with the area) and many in nearby Fort Erie, a town I’ve never actually been to, but that’s beside the point. This movie was a very good dark comedy, dealing with life and death and who we are. Some scenes were just laugh out loud funny, and others really made you think and appreciate the characters and the performances. I really quite enjoyed it, as the cast and story were both engaging enough to keep me wanting more. The ending where all the sons’ stories tie back to each other in one nice neat parcel may be being used a bit to much lately but in the case of A Beginner’s Guide to Endings it did work, even if it was fairly predictable.