THE STORY – An artist grieving the loss of his famous writer husband takes his two best friends on a trip to Paris, where they unpack messy secrets and hard truths.
THE CAST – Daniel Levy, Ruth Negga & Himesh Patel
THE TEAM – Daniel Levy (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 100 Minutes
After the surprise success of his hit TV show “Schitt’s Creek,” Dan Levy had Hollywood at his fingertips. He could have done anything for his next creative endeavor. That next creative endeavor, brought to us by Netflix, is “Good Grief,” an appealingly low-key exploration of grief and the friendships that help us through it. A deeply personal project coming in part from Levy’s processing of his own grief over his grandmother’s death at the height of the pandemic, the film follows Marc (Levy) as he struggles to move on from the death of his husband Oliver (Luke Evans). The last thing Marc got from Oliver before he died in a car crash on the way to the airport was a note saying that he had met someone else and that they should talk about it upon Oliver’s return. Having had his life turned upside down not just once, but twice, from the same event, Marc decides to take his best friends – free-spirited Sophie (Ruth Negga), who has just broken up with her long-term boyfriend and former lover-turned-stalwart companion Thomas (Himesh Patel) – on a weekend trip to Paris, in the hopes of getting some closure, or at least checking out the pied-à-terre Oliver had secretly rented there.
On the surface, the film doesn’t seem to have much in common with Levy’s hit show about a billionaire businessman and his privileged family forced to live in a rural town after they lose everything. However, they do share a certain charm, which could very well prove to be Levy’s signature. Like “Schitt’s Creek” before it, “Good Grief” exudes a deep love for all its characters, even those who may not initially seem like great people. Similarly to his TV triumph, Levy has populated his film with characters who may be foils to one another but who come to realize that the only antagonists they face are within themselves. It’s a testament to Levy’s skill that the two projects feel so different while maintaining his personal artistic stamp. So early in his career, Levy is already making a case for himself as one of the strongest creative voices of his generation.
That said, “Good Grief” is far from a perfect first feature. The biggest problem is pacing; individual scenes move well, but the story’s pace moves like molasses, making it feel as difficult to get through as the grief it depicts. The characters are also a bit thin, more often than not reduced to one character trait, even when the film is so invested in the idea that all humans are complex emotional beings. Thankfully, Negga, Patel, and Levy himself each have such skill with playing layered emotions (and such fascinating, captivating screen presence) that the main characters are always intriguing to watch, even when some of the conflict between them feels unconvincing. Levy has also written with a deep understanding of and appreciation for how complex adult friendships are, so while some of the problems they face may feel manufactured, the relationships between the three main characters never do.
The deeply felt performances from all the actors, including supporting players Celia Imrie and Arnaud Valois, are so passionate that you can’t help but feel connected to them and want the best for their characters. Unfortunately, though, that’s about as far as “Good Grief” is able to get. When it comes time to finally make a statement about emotionally fraught periods of our lives and how we navigate through them, Levy can only come up with well-worded variations on platitudes we’ve heard countless times. This results in a movie whose primary descriptor is “nice,” which seems a bit out of place for a film about grief. As a tribute to adult friendships, “Good Grief” is uniquely sweet and intelligent, but as a film about grief, it’s bland (the unremarkable cinematography and visual style don’t help). Still, Levy has managed a solid first feature, and if he wants to make more feature films, this is a very good base from which to start.