There’s probably a reason why there’s a surprising and varied cast of characters in the independent film The Good Night, and that’s because a familiar last name is involved with the project. Jake Paltrow, son of Bruce and Blythe Danner, and sister of Gwyneth wrote and directed the piece which at first glance might be a pretentious and audacious film, but is a little more interesting than it seems.
Dora (Gwyneth) and her boyfriend Gary (Martin Freeman, The Office) are living in New York, and Gary is working as a musician who does work on commercials, even after he was a one-hit wonder in a band with his friend Paul (Simon Pegg, Shaun of the Dead). Gary’s relationship with Dora appears to be flailing, and he starts to dream of a mysterious woman (played by Penelope Cruz of Volver lore) that he develops an intense kinship with. He then starts to sleep longer in order to spend as much time with her as possible and seeks out a specialist (Danny DeVito, Hoffa) in order to find out how to sleep longer.
With so many familiar names and faces speaking in a very quiet and humbling manner, the story becomes more Gary’s quest to spend more time and energy in his dream life, even while his real life seemingly starts to crumble from under his feet. And for anyone who remembers Freeman from the Ricky Gervais classic, he’s got the everyman look down, even before John Krasinski had it, and you can tell that in his real life, things clearly didn’t work out the way they planned, so why not have a little bit of escapism that’s free, with some necessary travelling.
As far as I know, this is Paltrow’s first feature, and he does manage fairly well to capture a man in conflict with his wants and his realities, and the performances are all fairly workmanline. If there’s a fault in the film which seems to be a little pervasive through it (well, two actually), it’s that the film comes off both as slightly depressing and, oddly enough, a little too smart for the room. When Gary does meet the girl of his dreams through an opportunity at work, it’s both fleeting and a little improbable, and the scene ends a little abruptly, perhaps for the sake of ending it. Paltrow and gang should probably have spent more time telling a convincing story than falling prey to conventional plot conflicts.
You get a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track that’s a little bit more involved than I was expecting. Speaker panning and surround activity is present when it needs to be, and there’s a scene or two where a subwoofer pokes it’s head out of the sonic ground to say hello every once in awhile. Even the dialogue comes across as clear as well. With the independent values of the film though, the dialogue seems to be recorded a little too softly and you have to crank your receiver up a little more than you should, which is a little annoying yet oddly understandable.
1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen which reflects the low-budget values even more than some of the audio did. I’m guessing that the film was done with handheld cameras and it shows on the many scenes that feature total darkness or pronounced blacks, like in the soundproofing bedroom that Dora comes back to. For what it’s working with, it looks OK.
When the case says there’s a filmmaker’s commentary, I’m presuming that it means one with Paltrow, and I’d be right. Paltrow talks about the film in the hallow emptiness of an apartment and talks about casting choices and what some of the actors did in the film. He does have quite a bit of recollection about the production and also discusses some of the character motivations that transpire over the course of the feature. There’s a fair share of watching his work here and there, but it’s a low-key yet somewhat informative commentary. Some Sony-released films include the studio’s trailers to round things out.
At the end of the day, The Good Night makes for interesting storytelling, with capable performances surrounding it. While there are parts of the film that border on endurable and unoriginal at times, it’s a solid first effort from Paltrow, and it will be interesting to see what future films this director brings.