Written and Directed by Daniel Levy | 100 min | ▲▲▲▲△ | Netflix
The first project I’ve seen in ages — aside from Maestro — where the writer-director also takes the lead role. With respect to Bradley Cooper’s effort, especially the astonishing talent of Carey Mulligan, I think I liked this one a little more. It’s involving and funny, even as it doesn’t quite avoid the slathering of sentiment in its exploration of grief.
In it filmmaker Levy (he’ll always be Dan to me) plays Marc, an illustrator, happily married to Oliver (Luke Evans), a wildly successful fantasy writer. The stage is set at a Christmas party in their incredible London home — in what looks like Belgravia, the exclusive neighbourhood just adjacent to Buckingham Palace. Present are a number of excellent friends, amongst them Himesh Patel as Thomas, Marc’s ex, and Ruth Negga as Sophie, a hot mess. Just then, as Oliver heads off to a signing in Paris. he dies in a car crash.
Fast forward to the following Christmas, Marc is dreading the anniversary of Oliver’s death and Marc, Thomas, and Sophie make a weekend pilgrimage to Paris to put a few ghosts to rest.
Ostensibly an exploration of the complicated feelings around the sudden loss of an imperfect lover, the picture is actually at its best getting into the dynamics of the central threesome’s friendship, which has been strained and tested over years. They’re clearly not always honest with each other or themselves to regularly awkward effect.
As a picture of melancholy tones spiked with humour, dancing between romantic comedy and full-on drama, this is remarkably mature storytelling from Levy. His characters are deep and believable, his casting superb. The Oscar-nominated Negga has already proved herself as a cinematic firebrand in films like Passing and Loving. Here acting in her actual Irish accent, Sophie is someone you wish the camera would follow around all day — she’s the most fun. Good Grief also has room for a collection of terrific cameos and support from Kaitlyn Dever, Emma Corrin, David Bradley, and Celia Imrie, and does a good job celebrating London and Paris at their most delightful paired with a nice selection of needledrops.
What the movie doesn’t quite nail is any real conversation about the privilege of being white and independently wealthy. In the first act it skirts with critique of art made in comfort and it looks like it might have something real to say about the ridiculous luxury of the world it’s set in, but the film casts those impulses aside as it goes along. It also ends about 15 minutes later than it should, indulging in a couple of tearful scenes it would’ve been stronger without.
But, still, check it out. See it for Levy’s grace and confidence as a storyteller, his talent with actors, the romance of the French and British capitals at their fanciest in December, and the incredible wardrobe draped over simply everyone — y’know, as well as the film’s emotional concerns.