Thursday, June 13, 2024

“GOOD ONE”

THE STORYDuring a weekend backpacking trip in the Catskills, 17-year-old Sam navigates the clash of egos between her father and his oldest friend.

THE CASTLily Collias, James Le Gros & Danny McCarthy

THE TEAMIndia Donaldson (Director/Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 89 Minutes


Sam (Lily Collias) wasn’t supposed to be the only teenager on this camping trip. Her dad, Chris (James Le Gros), and his best friend, Matt (Danny McCarthy), had planned the trip as a way to spend time with their kids before they went off to college. But Matt’s son decided he wouldn’t go, forcing his father to leave without him. Sam didn’t want to go herself, but she’s always been the good daughter, her sense of familial obligation only stronger since her parents’ divorce. This trip will irrevocably change Sam, as being alone with two adult men gives her a new perspective on life and what she will and will not accept from people as she becomes an adult herself.

India Donaldson’s “Good One” often feels like a play, with extended dialogue scenes captured in oft-unbroken takes. However, she takes advantage of the cinematic form to focus on tiny details that could get lost on stage. In doing so, she gives this carefully-paced character study the edge-of-your-seat, what-will-happen-next feeling of a thriller. Even though she’s with her father, Sam is still a young woman alone with two adult men, and the menace that comes with that is always lurking just beyond the frame. Cinematographer Wilson Cameron shoots the lush greenery of upstate New York with painterly beauty, but his framing of Sam is also crucial to the film’s thesis. For most of the film, Sam comes across as a passive observer, with Cameron’s camera shooting her silently, watching her companions, often at a distance, or hiding behind something. This is, of course, until the film ever so softly drops a massive needle-scratch of a line of dialogue in the third act that turns Sam’s world – and the audience’s – upside down. Sam can no longer merely observe; she must take action, and the camera re-centers her in quietly powerful ways to reflect that.

Likewise, Collias expertly charts this shift in Sam’s character, weaponizing her silence instead of hiding within it. In keeping with Donaldson’s vision for the rest of the film, Collias makes subtle shifts in her carriage and expression that carry enormous weight. Once you see the world for what it really is, it’s hard to see anything else, and Collias plays the slow but steady erosion of Sam’s worldview with the skill of an actor twice her age. It’s a breathtaking performance, notable for how Collias shows how her observer status has made her wise beyond her years in some ways but not in others. Sam has had to deal with the consequences of adult actions but hasn’t yet been in a position to understand the complexities of adult life fully. As she listens to Chris and Matt bemoan the directions their respective lives have taken, refusing to take any responsibility for their misfortune (for what is clearly not the first time), Collias displays Sam’s maturity by taking the time to carefully consider what she wants to say to them about it, and indeed whether or not she even wants to say something at all. But her responses often contain the naïveté of someone who has not lived long enough to know that no decision is ever simple.

The brilliance of Donaldson’s screenplay lies in the naturalistic dialogue that slowly peels back the layers of these characters to show us who they are at their core. Chris and Matt don’t even realize how much they’re revealing about themselves in their rehashing of divorces and past girlfriends, seemingly forgetting that Sam is even present for long stretches. Donaldson uses this to lull the audience into a false sense of security – these men are just typical guys who may not be the best people in the world, but they’re still good guys, right? – until someone says something. Something that could be brushed aside as unintentional or just “one of those things,” except that coming after everything else we’ve seen and heard, the meaning is unmistakable. Even though the moment is played in the same even-handed register as all the rest of the film’s dialogue, it lands with the force of Thor’s hammer, a cataclysmic event that shakes Sam to her core. Her world gets rocked again by the response she gets from telling someone about it. Donaldson has created a microcosm of the world at large, holding nothing back about how men see and treat women when they think no one else is watching, dissecting the fragile male ego so that the audience can see it for what it really is. Her light touch in the director’s chair provides the perfect accompaniment to her screenplay, putting the focus squarely on the words and how they reveal character. She has an intuitive grasp of when and how to heighten emotion, using close-ups sparingly and effectively. By the time the camping trip is over, none of these three will ever look at each other the same way again, and the audience may not look at their loved ones in the same way they did before, either. For something so seemingly simple on the surface, “Good One” hides surprising, complex depths that will haunt viewers long after it’s over.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Lily Collias gives a tremendous debut performance in India Donaldson’s quietly shattering character study. James Le Gros and Danny McCarthy are fascinating as Donaldson’s screenplay patiently peels back the layers of their characters.

THE BAD - The deliberate pacing is slow, and the lack of action can lull you into thinking nothing is happening.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 8/10

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Dan Bayer
Dan Bayer
Performer since birth, tap dancer since the age of 10. Life-long book, film and theatre lover.

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Latest Reviews

<b>THE GOOD - </b>Lily Collias gives a tremendous debut performance in India Donaldson’s quietly shattering character study. James Le Gros and Danny McCarthy are fascinating as Donaldson’s screenplay patiently peels back the layers of their characters.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>The deliberate pacing is slow, and the lack of action can lull you into thinking nothing is happening.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>8/10<br><br>"GOOD ONE"