It’s nice to see Jim Broadbent in a starring role — he’s been a supporting actor in all but a few of the 90 films he’s made — and his warm presence is a boon to the wispy, high-minded “The Sense of an Ending.” But our favorite befuddled British dad deserves a meatier character than Tony Webster, a retired Londoner whose comfortable life is mildly disrupted when the mother of an ex-girlfriend from his university days bequeaths to him a diary that the ex-girlfriend (played as an adult by Charlotte Rampling) refuses to hand over.
There follows much introspection and flashing-back to when young Tony (Billy Howle), the girlfriend (Freya Mavor), and his best mate Adrian (Joe Alwyn) palled around, discussing philosophy and suicide in the manner of 1960s college students. In the present, Tony tells the whole story to his amiable ex-wife, Margaret (Harriet Walter), whose bemused patience hints at what their marriage must have been like. As Tony gathers information about his old flame and her family, events from the past are cast in new light.
Directed by Ritesh Batra and faithfully adapted (by playwright Nick Payne) from Julian Barnes’ novel, the film is too staid for anything like “shocking” revelations. Tony comes to realize a few things he didn’t know before, some of which would be salacious if they were treated as such, but most of the discovery is internal, and Batra never tries to make the story into a mystery. Broadbent’s performance is endearing as always, but Tony is too thinly drawn: we never get a sense of what sort of person he is or what lessons he needs to learn. Whatever they are, he seems to learn them, so good for him, I suppose.
C+ (1 hr., 48 min.; )