The Good Night / Dustin Rowles
Film Reviews | October 12, 2007 | Comments ()
Can you imagine — can you even fathom — that a movie starring two Pajiba darlings, Martin Freeman and Simon Pegg, could be one of the most terribly underwhelming features of the year? Granted, The Good Night is not an awful film, nor is it poorly made; it’s just a bland combination of tedious mockumentary, obvious romantic comedy, and (worst of all), an extended dream life. Writer-director Jake Paltrow (yes: he’s Gwyneth’s brother) is under the misconception that has afflicted many filmmakers and authors before him: The idea that we will care any more about the dream life of a cinematic character than we do about that of the guy in the cubicle next to us, who insufferably begins each day with, “I had the weirdest dream last night.” Nobody wants to hear about his dream; likewise, unless it belongs to John Malkovich, nobody wants to experience the inside of anyone’s head on the big screen either, even if it stars Penelope Cruz in soft focus.
The Good Night begins with a series of interviews with friends and former band mates of Gary (Freeman), which reveal that at one time he was in a pop band of minor notoriety and that something life-changing and unexpected has just happened that has made him famous enough to warrant having a documentary made about him (clearly, the documentarians were hard up for material). From there, the action flashes back two years to the day the events that would lead to his infamy transpired.
Gary is in a loveless long-term relationship with Dora (Gwyneth Paltrow), a shrewish, nagging girlfriend who’s noticeably disappointed in where Gary’s life has led him, which is basically masturbating in the bathroom while Dora is in the next room. He and his former band mate, Paul (Pegg), write cheesy commercial jingles for an adverting agency, where Gary is miserable, forced to compromise his integrity by half-assing it; he wants to make jingles that are “original and great,” while the agency wants “fine.” “Don’t use words like Gerswhin and Sondheim,” Paul tells him, “because that scares the shit out of them. They think you’re making fun of them. They want ‘Cheers’ sound-alikes.”
Gary, however, seeks solace from his unhappy existence in dreams, where he’s fallen in love with Anna (Cruz), an angelic presence who speaks through telepathy or with Dora’s voice. Because the only time he’s happy is when he’s having lucid dreams, he seeks out the help of a pseudo-dream guru, Mel (Danny DeVito), who offers a few handy tips to avoid dream monsters that keep screwing with his dream life. Eventually, Gary becomes so absorbed in his dream world and detached from reality that Dora leaves him, which is when he discovers that Anna is an actual person in real life — a model who wants “to suck the marrow out of life.” He’s disappointed to learn, however, that in the real world, Anna doesn’t reciprocate his affection; in fact, she finds him a bit pathetic, a turn of events that wreaks havoc on his once peaceful slumber. Expectedly, all of this leads to a ridiculous and contrived epiphany and a lot of philosophical sap about how dreams invade reality and vice versa, which results in one massive letdown of an ending, even by traditional romantic comedy standards.
Undoubtedly, Jake Paltrow — in his feature directing debut — is attempting to mimic the work of Michel Gondry, which is a bit like casting Zac Effron to play Marlon Brando in the inevitable biopic. Ironically, it is Paltrow’s dream world that lacks imagination; the visuals aren’t in the least arresting — it looks like real life, just slightly sparklier. He attempts to make up for this, it seems, by filming the real-life sequences in dim light with grainy 16mm film in the hopes of drawing a starker contrast, a tactic that fails in spectacular fashion. The mock-doc elements are also unnecessary — filler material to stretch out the running time. But the real problem — aside from the complete lack of whimsy or hallucinatory magic necessary for a film that focuses on alternate realities — is that, despite the acting talent onscreen, the characters aren’t at all compelling. Freeman mopes, Gwyneth nags, Cruz stares, and DeVito grates. The only interesting character in the entire film is Paul, though casting Pegg as a narcissistic asshole is a complete waste of Pegg’s main draw: His affable goofiness. All of which is why the studio that ultimately snatched this film up at Sundance doesn’t have enough faith in it, despite the indie lure of Freeman and Pegg, to open it on more than two screens around the nation. And, chances are, it’ll never expand beyond that. So, if you want to keep your pristine impressions of those two actors intact, I’d ignore The Good Night when it comes out on DVD, too.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife and son in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.