Playing the school teacher card for a second, let’s review the types of triangles. If you remember from your elementary years, there are three: the congruent and perfect equilateral one, the isosceles with two common measures out of three, and the whopper-jawed scalene where everything is askew. Movie love triangles should be measured and evaluated like their geometric counterparts for framework and function. Applying an astute movie protractor, The Departure draws up a promising isosceles that bends ever so erratically to scalene the longer it extends its scheme.
The embroiled ploy at the center of The Departure involves two best friends and one of their girlfriends, all on the clean, classy, and privileged side of Los Angeles. Nate (Grant Wright Gunderson) is presented with an important project and a lucrative promotion by his solar panel sales boss (Jon Briddell) that he cannot turn down. It involves him moving to New York City for a minimum of six months. This change would require him to leave his beautiful girlfriend Jessica (Kendall Chappell) behind in L.A. right when they were at the steady point of moving in together.
Seeking calming advice, Nate approaches his childhood friend John (Austin Lauer). He’s an appealing single guy who’s had his share of wringer experiences in the dating department, including an indecisive future with a date named Amber (Olivia Lemmon) that showed miscommunication yet interesting potential. Nate is flush with insecurity and believes Jessica’s affection would wander when he leaves. In a bout of imprudent suspicion, Nate devises a test for John to discover Jessica’s devotion.
How much could you really ask a best friend to do? You know how a conversation like this likely starts. “Could I ask you a favor?” is urgently presented and the trusted friend blindly answers “Anything, man” or “Of course, dude” Here’s the crimp of consternation. Nate wants John to come on to Jessica to see if she would take that kind of bait. He thinks her response to that type of situation would prove her devotion before he leaves town.
Darkly, this becomes about measuring the strength of a relationship. That will depend on the bond, and Nate and his priorities already sound weak on his end. Still, what major change, event, or mistake can any couple endure? Where is temptation on that list? If something fails, does that mean it wasn’t meant to be? Viewers of The Departure will undoubtedly be tempted to weigh their own life against these premises, but there’s still more.
You’re primed to ask what you would do in this position. Imagine you are John with what writer-director Merland Hoxha has dramatically framed as an impossible choice. You’re put on the spot and the Meatloaf lyric of “I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that” is going through your head, only the word “friend” is swapped for the word “love.” What should really be replaced is “imbecilic” with “impossible,” but there’s no movie if this maneuver isn’t entertained and attempted.
How this risky and twisty path plays out, while more than a little ludicrous, is a compelling and tawdry draw. The Departure is a remake of Hoxha’s 2017 short film extended into a longer pursuit with Gunderson, Chappell, and Lauer all reprising their roles. With artful and technical savvy, this soap is stretched in the right places thanks to several long takes and the rotating setups of cinematographer Ludovica Isidori. The camera and the actors show stamina and attraction to grab your gaze.
What does one lose over this conundrum? The answer is plenty of dignity, integrity, guilt, and credence over the worth of proving a point or not. The detestable, foolish, and somewhat surprising character choices in The Departure thankfully come with their destructive falling dominoes. Trust is wrongfully forsaken for unfair and paranoid doubts. Voices of reason are ignored and “loose lips sink ships.”
There is an almost teenage-level of absurdity to it all by the time the finger-pointing sparks conflict. Too much torrid steam in The Departure is off-screen and too little rancor coalesces and festers to truly shock. Within its establishing transitions, the film drops a suggestive cover of “Where Did you Sleep Last Night?” but the whole movie is more Leadbelly than Nirvana with dramatic edge and execution.