Saturday, April 6, 2024

Good Grief

Movie Name:
Good Grief
Year of Release: 2023
Director: Daniel Levy
Starring: Daniel Levy, Ruth Negga, Himesh Patel, Luke Evans, Celia Imrie, Arnaud Valois, David Bradley, Mehdi Baki, Emma Corrin, Jamael Westman, Kaitlyn Dever, Yoli Fuller, Noé Besin
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
Watch it on Netflix

Synopsis and Review
After making a name for himself with the fantastic show "Schitt's Creek", actor/writer/producer/director Daniel Levy has finally planted his feet firmly on the ground of the feature world (since the ending of his show, he acted in small parts for Clea Duvall's "Happiest Season" and more recently Justin Simien's "Haunted Mansion"). "Good Grief" is his first foray into the feature world, which has had the production support from Netflix, who has also released the film. The narrative focuses on Marc, an illustrator and painter, who lives in London with his affluent and well known husband Oliver. Oliver has made a name for himself as an author of a popular series of young adult novels, which Marc has illustrated as well. While celebrating Christmas with a well attended party at their house, Oliver bids farewell to the group, since he has to go to Paris for a book signing. Moments later Marc listens to agitation on the street not far from where they live, only to realize the car in which Oliver was at has suffered an accident, which results in his death. The following year, Marc deals with the grief of that loss, with the help of his best friends, Sophie and Thomas. He also uncovers a few things Oliver had left behind, namely the fact that he left him a note admitting to have met someone else, and that for all intended purposes he had been living a second life in Paris, in an apartment he had been leasing there. With the advice of his financial consultant, he decides to give up that lease, but before doing so, decides to go to Paris with Sophie and Thomas, without disclosing to them the story behind that apartment. Those next days in Paris reveal themselves to be a catalyst for Marc's bottled feelings, the same going for his friends, also dealing with their own relationship issues. 
What was always so particularly well done on "Schitt's Creek" was the ability the show had to progressively uncover who all the central characters were, while not necessarily making them more endearing or even palatable. They had their quirks, but were also eminently human, flaws and all, which made them that much more captivating (and funny). "Good Grief" somehow attempts to illustrate a character study, but can't avoid falling into the trappings of clichés that once again feel a bit tired and repetitive. Case in point, the affluent gay couple in which one the partners suddenly finds himself uncovering an unexpected betrayal, while the best friends include the quirky and slightly immature gal pal, and the gay male best friend, who has been pining for the central character all along. All the central characters, who are either 40 or reaching that age, seem to be depicted like stunted in their development and maturity, and while the event that jumpstarts the film is indeed dramatic, the narrative itself doesn't look inwards, but chooses instead to go on a substantially more superficial direction, a slightly gayer version of Ryan Murphy's "Eat Pray Love". Which is to say, the film illustrates more of Marc's journey to get over the pain, which in itself is a perfectly feasible motif to capture on film, but we never actually get a sense as to why he and Oliver were together, and what is it that he is indeed mourning. The betrayal almost comes across as a soap opera motif, to jumpstart that self healing moment, without truly posing the question as to why it actually happened, and what was that Marc had been unaware of in that relationship. Ironically enough, there's more heartbreak and intimacy in Andrew Haigh's "Weekend" and "45 Years", both films that capture the relationships of two couples, at different times in their existence, but that are so effective at demonstrating closeness, frailty and even secrets. For all the time that is spent with these characters not much is uncovered from their motivations and even the arc they get to experience is very limited. What is left is a collection of some moments that promised more, such as Marc's interactions with Theo and Oliver's presence, but the film ultimately just doesn't add much. The cast tries their best to bring these characters to life, with highlights going to Arnaud Valois, Luke Evans, Kaitlyn Dever (who is capturing a bit of Anna Faris' character from Sofia Coppola's "Lost in Translation"), and the luminous Celia Imrie. The production team is solid, with a highlight going to Ole Bratt Birkeland's cinematography. It's watchable, but ultimately a forgettable endeavor.