D: Courteney Cox / 95m
Cast: Seann William Scott, Olivia Thirlby, Garret Dillahunt, Kate Walsh, Kyle Gallner, Mackenzie Marsh, Evan Ross, Rob Riggle, Connie Stevens, David Arquette, Diane Ladd, Missi Pyle, Clancy Brown, Beth Grant, Griffin Gluck, Elisha Cuthbert
When his marriage falls apart, Ted Morgan (Scott) finds himself reassessing his life. He doesn’t like what he sees and this leads to him making the decision to return to his hometown and right the wrongs in his childhood that he feels have contributed to where he is now – and then he’ll kill himself. He moves in with his older brother, Lucky (Dillahunt), and his family: wife Kathleen (Walsh), and sons Zeke (Gallner) and Randy (Gluck). Ted’s first mission is to confront one of his teachers, Mrs Lawrence (Grant), who treated him harshly and undermined his confidence. He finds her in a home but his confrontation doesn’t go as planned, though he does meet Greta (Thirlby), his teacher’s granddaughter. When he tells her why he was there, and about his plan to kill himself, Greta threatens to tell Lucky (who’s also the town sheriff) unless Ted lets her tag along and film everything in lieu of his having to leave a suicide note.
Ted next visits the man who bullied him mercilessly at school, Rowley Stansfield (Riggle), but Ted’s plan to beat him up is ruined when Rowley apologises straight away for his terrible behaviour. With his expectations being dashed at every turn – a meeting with the one girl in school who treated him kindly, Vickie (Marsh), leads to a one night stand – Ted finds himself taken into his nephew’s confidence over the issue of Zeke’s confused sexuality. He also finds himself recognising that not everything is okay with his brother’s marriage (Kathleen spits in Lucky’s coffee and “sleep masturbates” in front of Ted each night). Still intending to kill himself despite how much he finds people like him, a secret from Greta’s past threatens to put an end to their burgeoning relationship, and an incident at school leads to Zeke disappearing. Faced with being involved with everyone else’s problems, Ted has to lend what aid he can before going through with his own “self-help” plan.
For a movie that deals with themes of suicide, childhood bullying, homophobia, teen peer pressure, sexism, marital disharmony, and adds a dash of casual racism to the mix for good measure, Just Before I Go could have been one of the dourest, most depressing movies of 2014 or any other given year. And while it contains a layer of seriousness that befits all those themes, Courteney Cox’s feature debut opts instead to throw in all manner of comic additions to the material, from the aforementioned sight of Kathleen “auditioning the finger puppets” (thankfully not in close-up) to a totally unexpected moment when Lucky sports an early morning hard-on that he does nothing to hide. It’s moments like these when it seems that David Flebotte’s script has lost any confidence it had in its own effectiveness and goes for the cheap laugh as a way of maintaing the audience’s interest.
What this means for the movie is that the humour, misjudged and awkwardly shoehorned into the narrative as it is, leaves the undercooked drama somewhat isolated and struggling to make the required impact. Take away the humour and you have a movie that, while it still struggles to be insightful, is at least broadly entertaining, with a quiet, understated performance from Scott, and an awareness that the issues it’s dealing with aren’t being tackled with any real depth but with enough energy to keep the audience involved (if only to see how many tonal switches the movie can make in ninety-five minutes). Cox apparently had advice from David Fincher and Gus Van Sant, but it’s hard to see where, or if, their advice was taken up, and she has trouble focusing on the emotions needed in any given scene, which adds to the disappointment of seeing a pretty good ensemble cast given very little to sink their teeth into. That it’s all wrapped up so neatly as well, merely reinforces the soap opera dramatics that do the movie such a disservice.
Rating: 4/10 – there’s already a movie called Trainwreck (2015), but this comes close to being the celluloid equivalent, as crass humour collides with sentimental drama to very poor effect; saved by a handful of well-judged if directorially unsupported performances, Just Before I Go is a badly constructed mess that stretches the patience and often betrays itself, let alone the viewer.