Monday, November 10, 2008

The Good Life

The Good Life (Stephen Berra, 2008) [8]

Berra's debut feature is surprisingly good, mostly because it's completely uncompromising in its downbeat nature. That bleak outlook is sure to be a major turn off to many but hey, the world isn't always sunshine and lollipops. Jason (Mark Webber) is an outsider in a football crazed Nebraska town, working two jobs to support his family as well as being a caretaker to a mentally deteriorating theatre owner (Harry Dean Stanton). He meets a young ingenue (Zooey Deaschanel), the two become partners in alienation, and Jason dreams of leaving his miserable existence. The story doesn't have much that hasn't been done before but the film works because the characters are believable and accurate to their situations. Webber and Deschanel fit well together as two misfits brought together by their mutual apathy. Even the supporting performances, especially Donal Logue as the football mad, meat head brother-in-law, help reinforce Jason's feelings and situations. Events progress and get worse for Jason until he has to make an ultimate choice. I won't give away the ending but it's the only element of the film that doesn't fit in my opinion, mostly because of it shift in mood. But besides that, this really was a surprise. The story and look of the film match and are consistent throughout. Berra creates a clever little sub story and twist involving the Deschanel character that is revealed at the right moment. Maybe it's because of its bleak nature but this film is being compared with Donnie Darko, to which I have to disagree with. Darko is so wrapped up in its ironic, fantasy tinged world to be take literally. The Good Life is all too real, and that hits too close to home for those who aren't going to like it. It's that attention to the characters and their problems that create a solid film.

Plus: the film had no real commercial release date, so for my purposes, it will be considered a 2008 release. And from what this year has already produced and seeing what's yet to come, The Good Life is a strong contender for my best of '08 list.

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