Could Drake Doremus' Next Feature Get Him Back on Form?

The 'Like Crazy' director has enlisted the likes of Shailene Woodley and Jamie Dornan for his latest movie, but he also needs to write some strong stories again.

Like Crazy
Paramount Pictures

It has been a while since Drake Doremus truly captured cinema magic with Like Crazy. The tear-jerker starring Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin remains his best movie to date, one that makes up an integral part of his as well as Jones’ and Yelchin’s onscreen careers.

Like Crazy‘s deeply personal narrative just impeccably clicks with its killer cast. Doremus’ movies are often melodramatic regardless of subgenre. That said, this iconic and simple romance is a painfully real and sobering portrait of a strained long-distance relationship. Jones and Yelchin have so much emotional potency together, but the story also has heaps of heart.

Since then, though, Doremus’ feature slate has left something to be desired. He always seems to assemble the most promising casts only to let them down with pedestrian projects. The effort of re-teaming with Jones and adding the phenomenal Guy Pearce to his 2013 film Breathe In merely resulted in a stifled final product. Meanwhile, Equals and Zoe are mixed bags on a narrative level. Their lead actors — namely Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult, and Ewan McGregor and Léa Seydoux, respectively — still manage to get these narratives across. However, they inhabit stories that are conceptually sincere yet ultimately generic and empty in execution.

Should we then hold out hope that Doremus’ follow-up films could somehow once again live up to the caliber of the performers he usually works with? Deadline reports that Shailene Woodley (Big Little Lies), Jamie Dornan (Fifty Shades of Grey), Sebastian Stan (Captain America), and Matthew Gray Gubler (Criminal Minds) now collectively form the eclectic cast of his upcoming untitled feature.

Details about the movie are generally scant, but what we do know is that Doremus penned the screenplay with novelist Jardine Libaire, the author responsible for raw contemporary fictions Here Kitty Kitty and White Fur. Doremus’ movie centers on a year in the life of 30-something-year-old Daphne (Woodley). As she falls in love and experiences heartbreak during that time period, numerous surprises and the “secrets to her life” apparently await around every corner.

Honestly, there is little doubt that the cast Doremus has assembled could deliver on the impassioned promises of such a premise. Most notably, Woodley has come a long way since The Secret Life of the American Teenager, although her evolution as an actress has taken her through crests and troughs. The Descendants and The Spectacular Now are rather generic dramas, but they thrive off proficient lead performances, including Woodley’s. If the year 2014 brought anything to her career, it’s variety in spite of disappointing results. After all, Woodley is far from the worst thing about White Bird in a Blizzard, Divergent, and The Fault in Our Stars. Thankfully, now that she has a regular gig on Big Little Lies, her subtle acting efforts are more consistently and effectively utilized.

Don’t let Dornan’s ridiculous turns in the Fifty Shades movies necessarily fool you into thinking he’s a leaden actor, either. His role in ABC’s fairytale-based TV series Once Upon a Time was relatively minor. Still, in playing the effervescent and likable Sheriff Graham Humbert on the show, Dornan injects warmth and comfort to its sprawling storyline. To then turn around and deliver such a striking performance as a seductive serial killer opposite the formidable Gillian Anderson in The Fall is a further wonder. Dornan is particularly calculative and compelling in this addictive and alluring police procedural. Clearly, his TV work is much more praiseworthy than his most mainstream big-screen efforts, which could make this Doremus feature extra important to Dornan’s filmography in general.

I have personally raved about Stan here on Film School Rejects before, and the fact that his star simply continues to shine can only be good news. Right now, it’s impossible to predict what kind of character he’ll play in Doremus’ movie. We’re kept in the dark over just how heroic or antagonistic any of them will turn out. Obviously, one hopes that shades of nuance will actually exist among these characters, anyway. Nevertheless, whether Stan will portray someone cheeky (Once Upon a Time), brooding (Captain America), conflicted (Political Animals), earnest (The Martian), or outrageous (I, Tonya), we can rest assured that he is an undeniable scene-stealer who does remarkably well embodying a bunch of different archetypes.

Finally, we have Gubler, an alum of Doremus’ films who appears in a supporting capacity in Zoe and the romantic drama Newness. The Criminal Minds veteran spends much of his time on TV screens depicting the awkward lovability and emotional turmoil of FBI Special Agent Dr. Spencer Reid. Over the course of its existing 14-season run (whew), Criminal Minds allows Gubler more than enough room to flex his dramatic muscles. Elsewhere, he normally participates in much quirkier projects. Gubler has appeared in (500) Days of Summer and Life After Beth as punchy, memorable supporting characters. Bigger roles in Suburban Gothic and Band of Robbers are similarly off-beat, electing to lean on his darkly comedic sensibilities. And as a voice actor, Gubler has notably been one of the eponymous characters in Alvin and the Chipmunks, as well as made the 180-degree shift into the mind of the Riddler in Batman: Assault on Arkham.

All in all, none of these actors give me much pause with regard to their capabilities. More worrisomely, the film’s potential script may prove to be its actual Achilles’ heel. Doremus hasn’t written his own screenplay since Breathe In, a cold and uninspired movie that should’ve been more impactful due to its ruinous story. Comparably, Libaire’s ostensibly character- and relationship-driven books don’t entirely hit home runs either. Here Kitty Kitty and White Fur are ambitious in their quest to tackle a selection of lost and desperate characters — importantly focusing on messy and imperfect women — but technical issues such as distracting, frivolous prose upend the reading experience considerably.

Judging from Doremus’ past work in addition to the admitted grit of Libaire’s novels, this Woodley starrer certainly aims towards dramatic greatness through the heartrending exploration of an uncertain woman. At the very least, that’s a valid story that I’ll keep in my sights. However, despite the spark of Doremus’ filmmaking potential in his early work, we’ll frankly have to wait and see if this one is worth our while.

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