Where We Started, the third feature film from writer-director Chris Hansen, is a modest, unassuming two-character portrait about a couple of married strangers — mechanic and struggling actor Will (Matthew Brumlow), unsatisfied housewife and mother Nora (Cora Vander Broek) — who meet at a motel and end up spending a long night together.
Their connection is formed over cigarettes, cosmopolitans, late-night diner food, a shared love of John Hughes movies, and flirtatious arguments about make-out music.
Hansen, the director of the Film and Digital Media program at Baylor University, crafts their conversations with a delicate mix of shot/reverse-shot cutting and longer shots that contain both actors, giving each of them space and time to nurture the dueling psychologies and motivations. (Brumlow and Vander Broek both receive “additional dialogue” credit.)
This is a much more confident film than Hansen’s Endings (2010), which tells a badly misjudged and manipulative interlocking story about three near-death people, including a heroin addict played by Brumlow, finding companionship in their mutual sorrow. Where We Started does away with such overdetermined narrative ambition in favor of its simple, two-in-a-room scenario.
Hansen still falls into some traps: The few soundtrack-heavy sequences, particularly near the end, tug at heartstrings that have already been breached through more organic means, and the awkward recurrence of the characters’ references to Hughes films further threatens the air of naturalism.
But the movie, on the whole, remains an engaging platform for its actors, and Hansen’s ability to maximize their work, as epitomized by the most sublime moment: a nearly five-minute take in which Hansen’s camera patiently moves in on Vander Broek as she unpacks the depths of Nora’s character.