The Good Life
certain films which are obviously created simply for film festival cult
status - arty, moody, quirky, a little uncomfortable in their own skins and
wanting to be seen as oh-so-deep.
Life is one of those films. It is a movie that shies from mass
consumption, more comfortable with its own morose and alternately beautiful
and sordid world view.
it has some fascinating bits and some truly stunning acting on display,
The Good Life is simply not quite as high quality a film as it thinks it
is. There is a fine line between arty and pretentious and The Good
Life stumbles over that line way too regularly to recommend it
whole-heartedly - though it has enough interesting ideas and moments that
it that it does merit finding an audience that would appreciate the movie
for it's own subtle and particular charms.
Life is obviously a labor of love - and I mean that in both the best
possible way and the worst possible way all at once.
In fact, it
has a cast of intriguing and respected names - many of whom take small,
inconsequential roles. For example, despite the fact that his name and
prominently displayed on the DVD case, Bill Paxton only has two rather
inconsequential sequences which probably offer less than five minutes of
screen time. Drea De Matteo (The Sopranos),
Patrick Fugit (Almost Famous) and Bruce McGill (Animal House)
also get barely anything to do.
character here - a small town loser named Jason who is a quiet, anguished
outcast because of an immune function condition which makes him unable to
grow any hair - is played (with impressive intensity) by the mostly unknown
Mark Webber (probably best known as Ethan Hawke's surrogate in The
Hottest State), who gets sixth billing on the box.
in a rundown section of Lincoln, Nebraska. He has been taking care of
his mother (Deborah Rush) and sister (Drea De Matteo) since his
mean-spirited father left the family. As the action begins, the father
has committed suicide - giving Jason yet another unwanted responsibility, to
close down his apartment - and a gift from his father that he is afraid to
Jason has a
dead-end job at a gas station and can't even earn enough to pay the
electricity bill. He is bullied by a local tough (American Pie's
Chris Klein in an impressive against-type role) and taunted by his
football-obsessed brother-in-law (Donal Logue).
works evenings at a repertory cinema (which somehow is able to stay open
despite the fact that they almost never have more than two customers a
night) that is owned by an aging man (Harry Dean Stanton) who appears to be
slipping into Alzheimer's disease.
As so often
happens in these films, possible redemption appears in the form of a
beautiful woman who seems to see Jason for who he is, not how he looks.
Unfortunately, Frances (a luminous performance by the lovely Zooey Deschanel)
is never exactly what she seems. She is a beautiful enigma who almost never
tells the whole truth and seems to share quite a few of the same
biographical quirks of Judy Garland. (Garland's music, life and films
get a lot of mileage in the plot.)
blows in and out of Jason's life with shocking quickness, in fact when she
leaves the audience briefly wonders if she was all a figment of Jason's
imagination. It turns out she wasn't, in fact when it is revealed who
she really is, it is neither a surprise (in fact, it was my original guess
to her identity before her mystical disappearance clouded the waters), nor,
frankly, is her character's true identity overly relevant to the plot.
The movie's title
is meant to be taken with the ultimate of irony until the very, very end. It all
sort of falls apart at that climax though, where Jason goes through two
giant and conflicting character changes with little warning or
motivation. Even the tag line on the DVD case - "He's finally had
enough" - evinces a character arc that is never quite fleshed out.
Yes, Jason is putting up with a lot of crap here, but it seems like that has
been a pretty constant condition for him. The audience is never quite sure
what it is that supposedly is pushing him over the edge, nor do we know what
exactly is supposed to try to pull him back from the abyss.
seems like writer/director Steve Berra felt that he had to get to the ending
of the film without actually having the chance (or taking the time) to set
that finale up. This is somewhat strange, at under 90 minutes long
they could have certainly added some additional scenes to make the
transitions seem less jarring.
brief festival run which climaxed in a Sundance showing (it never quite made
it to the art houses), The Good Life slips directly into the video
racks, where it will undoubtedly disappear into a lonely life on the lower
shelves. The movie doesn't totally deserve this solitary fate - and I
do believe that many people who do embrace the movie may very well become
die-hard champions for it. However, with the melancholy isolation of
the storyline and characters, maybe this makes a certain amount of karmic
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: November 8, 2008.