Cinema Dispatch: Good Time

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Good Time and all the images you see in this review are owned by A24

Directed by Ben Safdie and Josh Safdie

Oh boy!  Is this another movie that I walked into with no idea what it’s about or even what kind of movie it is?  IT SURE IS!  It’s called Good Time, so how could it be anything but a barrel of laughs!?  Then again Robert Pattinson isn’t known for his comedy work, unless we’re talking UNINTENTIONAL ones.  Who knows?  It’s certainly been getting a lot of praise and was even one of the big hits from Cannes this year, so maybe it’s at least worth a shot!  Is this the kind of film that we’ll be talking about at the end of the year come award season, or is this yet another example of a festival darling being overhyped and underperforming once it takes a shot at mainstream audiences?  Let’s find out!!

The movie begins with Brothers Connie and Nick (Robert Pattinson and Ben Safdie) leaving the office where Nick sees a social worker that is assisting with his situation (he has a mental disability) and going to rob a crappy bank in Queens.  Sadly their skills at robbing the bank are even crappier and Nick ends up getting pinched by the cops while Connie just barely escapes with very little money to show for it.  From there it’s a series of blunders as Connie tries to find a way to get Nick out of jail; either through scrounging up enough money to post bail or through more creative means.  Each plan he comes up with is somehow worse than the last and the number of victims he leaves in his wake starts to build up as his methods become more and more desperate the longer he goes on without a legitimate solution to his problem.  Can Connie survive this night long enough to get his brother out of the big house, and will his freedom be enough to justify the ever increasing cost Connie is paying to get it?  What colorful and wacky characters will he meet along the way, and will any of them turn out to be the answer he’s been seeking?  Is there a chance that he can LITERALLY run away from his problems!?  Hey, when all else fails it’s worth a shot!

 

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“Running, Running, Running, RUNNING!!”

I’m sure there are lots of people who are gonna love this movie… but I’m not one of them.  This isn’t me being contrarian for the sake of being so and it’s not even me trying to talk others into disliking this movie.  If you love it, then by all means enjoy it.  I’m just saying that I found this movie to be obnoxious and oppressively dour without any sort of goals that I would consider worth the investment.  I get it.  I get where this movie is damn near brilliant and I certainly felt it at various times throughout, but the overly bombastic and unrestrained first act coupled with a story that’s meant to beat you into submission and cinematography that’s designed to feel uneasy.. well you can hardly argue that it didn’t succeed in what it set out to do, but then I don’t feel too enthused to start praising it for being so alienating and off putting.

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IS THE MOVIE OVER YET!?

The title is obnoxiously apropos for this movie as it’s not only ironic (the story of Connie Nikas is certainly NOT a good time) but calls attention to the film’s rather… well I wouldn’t exactly say SHALLOW approach to storytelling (at least not in overtly negative terms) but in just how little it tries to engage you with the characters on screen.  Connie in this movie is almost entirely reactive to every situation he’s in and we never really get to see his walls come down at any point to understand the person behind the brazen exterior and single minded focus to get him and his brother out of the city.  Sure, there are moments throughout where we can get a glimpse of who he is when he’s NOT running for his life (most of which indicate a pretty terrible person), but there’s not enough THERE for me to care whether he succeeds in his mission or not.  Frankly, this guy making it through the night without winding up dead or in custody will end up with at more than a few innocent people landing in BIG trouble for no good reason.  For any sort of media where we follow a despicable character, the key isn’t to get us to LIKE them, but to find them compelling in some way.  Connie is just not that interesting of a character who we only care about at least SOMEWHAT because we are following him through this journey and because we kind of care what happens to his brother Nick; not to say that Connie succeeding would be the BEST outcome for him (one of the few times where Connie has his guard down indicates that he’s projected a lot of his own insecurities and issues onto his brother which is pretty toxic considering how much Nick depends on him) but the one SMALL piece of humanity that Connie has is his connection to his brother and that is the only reason this movie didn’t actively piss me off all the way through.  I’m not the biggest fan of watching shitty people act shitty for shits and giggles (*cough* Fight Club *cough*) which is why it’s so important that there be SOMETHING for me to grab onto and engage with in order to at least justify myself going on an awful journey like this and it manages to JUST BARELY have that which was enough for me not to hate it, but not enough for me to really enjoy it.

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I sure hope THIS guy gets a happy ending!

That’s basically my BIG problem with this (why do I care what happens to anyone), but there are other things that bothered me as well.  The first act is an absolute assault on the senses with quick cuts, lots of movement, HUGE jumps in time, and music blaring through the speakers at a volume just too loud to enjoy.  It MIGHT have been the theater but the dialogue was at a perfectly acceptable volume which indicates a slightly off audio mix and it honestly makes sense for a movie trying THIS hard to be dark and oppressive to make its audience in some ways physically uncomfortable.  It didn’t really work for me and I couldn’t even engage with this movie on any level until it calmed the hell down as we headed into the second act.  The music was always too much (especially when contrasted with scenes of the characters simply driving a car), but the visuals became less forceful and the editing was much more deliberate.  There are some great moments in this where the cinematography is on point and gives everything a garish and warped feel to it.  MAYBE it’s a bit overboard (how does a cheap townhome in Queens have THIS much unorthodox lighting!?) but it certainly gives the movie a sense of style which at least keeps things VISUALLY engaging even if Robert Pattinson’s character isn’t doing it for you.

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Just make sure you don’t make him sparkle.

I’m probably sounding way more negative than I should be about this as I can CLEARLY see why so many people are enjoying this.  This isn’t like Wind River where I feel like I’m the only one who actually SAW the damn thing.  I get what this is doing that is creating so much positive buzz and the majority of my issues with it are more about my own personal tastes when it comes to building up characters and visual storytelling.  Robert Pattinson is phenomenal playing this shitty character and it’s hardly his fault that the filmmakers didn’t give him more to do outside of running around and being a dick.  He’s not only great at handling the scenes where he has to act like a monster in order to get what he needs; he can REALLY delve deep and isn’t afraid to show some emotion whenever a scene call for it which only helped to keep me at least somewhat invested in the story.  Ben Safdie is fine as well as his brother who doesn’t get nearly as many scenes but makes the most of them, though I question why they felt the need to cast him in the role instead of an actor with the kind of disability he was portraying in this.  Those actors are out there and looking for work, so to pass them up to have a neurotypical actor play the part… yeah, not the best move they could have made here.  The other big revelation here as far as acting (sadly not Jennifer Jason Leigh who’s only on hand for one scene) is Buddy Duress as Ray; a fellow law breaker who winds up in the plot through rather convoluted means, and what makes HIM stand out so much is that he basically gets to do what I was hoping the movie would do with Robert Pattinson.  He’s a guy who likes to talk so the movie gives him plenty of opportunities to do so and we find out a lot about him and how he thinks in these scenes which are pretty much what you’d expect from a Tarantino film and something they should have done for Connie’s character.  I get that it wasn’t the filmmakers intent to make him the life of the party or even to force themselves into the movie in order to flesh out the story (no flashbacks for Pattinson or internal monologues) but that’s where the movie THEY wanted to make is one that I didn’t overwhelmingly enjoy; same way that I don’t have to enjoy a propaganda film even if that was the filmmakers intent and they succeeded at it with flying colors.

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I may not like what he’s doing, but he’s doing it SO WELL!

If you can get behind the characters in this movie with the little amount of story they give you and just enjoy it for the wacky and disturbing ride that it is, then I have no doubt this will be one of your favorite films of the year simply because of how well its executed and how much of a revelation at least two of the actors are in this.  It’s got enough problems for me (both technical and on a story level) that I can’t get behind it the same way everyone else has, but I’m not all that sorry I did go out to see it and would recommend checking it out at SOME point even if the initial premise doesn’t sound all that appealing.  Hey, if nothing else it’s nice to see Robert Pattinson ACTUALLY express emotion… even if it’s mostly just desperation and selfishness…

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