Entertainment August 9, 2017
I’m really glad Rob Pattinson didn’t molest that dog.
The Safdie Brother’s “Good Time” continues the trend of awards seeking films using extreme close ups for no reason.
An admirable performance by the actors is marred by the overwhelming sense that the filmmakers didn’t provide quite enough story for the main character.
At least until Robert Pattison’s Connie walks in, disrupting any hope we had for a journey in the criminal justice system with a disabled individual (which deserves its own film entirely).
The film opens on Benny being questioned by a therapist on the meanings of common colloquialism. He takes things literally, replying that the meaning of “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch” is “Don’t count your chickens.”
When he becomes uncomfortable with the therapist taking notes, the subtext is clear. He doesn’t want anyone taking notes because he doesn’t want anyone laughing at him later, behind his back. The issue there lies much more with the viewers than the film. Because in the audience at this screening, people were laughing at Nick anyway.
“Good Time” is a parable the likes of many other slice of life films. The writing presents a beyond flawed character. At one point, Connie almost commits statutory rape and another scene, fortunately not filmed, had him molesting a Pitbull. (A story Rob has now declared was a joke spun out of hand.)
Nothing was fleshed out enough in Connie’s storyline to make us care deeply. And the comedic and dramatic entities of “Good Time” weren’t quite balanced. When his fate plays out near the end, the audience believes it’s a good thing.
They come into play mostly after the hospital visit, which I’ll leave unclear in case you go to see it. Buddy Duress’s Ray presents an anecdote that was the most entertaining portion of the film. Taliah Webster as Crystal (the teenager Pattinson almost rapes) provided that wry, familiarly unwitting archetype. But she also eloquently captured the confused betrayal she feels later.
Barkhad Abdi and Jennifer Jason Leigh appear in yet another example of criminally underused Oscar-nominated actors. Leigh gives a great, albeit short performance as Corey, who has apparently been supporting Connie. She’s the first person he goes to when he needs money. And she plays the part of a delusional, semi-sugar mama very well. Abdi on the other hand, plays a security guard, whose job consists of yelling, wandering around in the dark and other abuses.
The electronic and overbearing score that blared and wheezed over parts of the film served its purpose of driving tension and intensity. To the point that it was almost too intense and was most certainly too loud. Perhaps because Nick appeared to be deaf or hard of hearing.
He wore hearing aids throughout the film. The electric twang of the score sounded more like a cochlear implant, which translates sound into electrical signals that the brain interprets. I understand where they were trying to go, but especially since I’m not a member of the Deaf/HoH community, I’m not entirely sure they got there.
“Good Time” was effectively not a good time for anyone. Particularly people of color. Constantine exploits and abuses the world and people around him. And in a New York depicted diversely (because it is diverse) those people are largely PoCs. Which actually comes as a breath of fresh air.
The first trespass in “Good Time” is when Connie and Nick commit a crime near the beginning of the film wearing realistic face masks and clothes. These face masks make them appear to be black construction workers. I don’t think I need to go into why that’s bad.
The prisoners with whom Nick is held are majority PoC. And all of the inmates are depicted as aggressive and animalistic. Although the person who attacks Nick doesn’t appear to be black, the melee that ensues proceeds within a sea of brown skin. The addition to a long history of inmates being portrayed as a subset of mankind is unhelpful to say the very least.
Connie manipulates a black bus driver into dropping him off. He manipulates a black, immigrant, elderly woman to allow him into her home. Then, narrowly avoiding raping said woman’s granddaughter, he steals her car and gets her granddaughter Crystal arrested. I think we’re supposed to think that’s better somehow. It is not.
Whether it’s the film’s intention to play the opening for laughs or whether the audience found it funny anyway is unclear. And it’s a shame either way. But Nick on his own is a compelling character, played well by Benny Safdie. The tears that escape when he’s contemplating people laughing at him pick at you.
Nick bookends “Good Time.“ Connie interrupts… disrupts. But Nick ends like he began, without him. I can’t help but wonder what the film would’ve been had it centered on Nick with Connie’s story on the periphery. Maybe it would have allowed the Safdie brothers to explore compelling characters within the inmate population. Connie’s understanding of the world is familiar. Nick’s is not so.
The notion that Nick is better off without Connie is felt as soon as Connie walks into the first tight, suffocating frame. It is clear throughout the film that Connie loves Nick but has his own, incorrect idea of what’s best for him. Connie feeds into the stigma against institutionalization of individuals struggling with Deafness and mental disability. And in his effort to avoid Nick being in a place of like individuals where he can receive some help, he leads Nick into a hellish den of monsters.
“Good Time” is a street movie. The main character is very obviously a destructive force, but there’s something evocative and human about him. Shown to us through his gentleness with dogs, his brief feeding of an elderly woman and most of all, his love for his brother. But there is something about that love that tells us it is grounded in Connie’s need to have someone, more than Nick’s need for anything. Connie doesn’t need to be likable. He needs to be human. And that he is.
Regardless of what the film may put its audience through along the way, it gets its point across and makes for at least an entertaining ride. And if you’re a New Yorker who’s not home, “Good Time” will make you miss it.
Not in the Drone shots of apartment buildings, but in the details. The black snowman. The accents. The security guards’ apartment. And most, the people, who (aside from the inmates) felt honest.
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