Dreamscapes and lonely hearts are served up with equal measure in "The Good Night," a peculiar and enchanting dramedy that exists in its own world of desire and representation. It's not a collegiate lesson on the expanse of the psychological realm, but a quirky ode to a man desperate for soul-craving fulfillment, yet cursed without wind in his sails.
Gary (Martin Freeman) is a former pop star now trying to make ends meet as a commercial composer, failing to cover his resentment toward former bandmate and now boss, Paul (Simon Pegg). Living with his depressive girlfriend Dora (Gwyneth Paltrow), Gary finds the highlight of his day is sleeping, where he engages with a permissive fantasy woman (an aptly cast Penelope Cruz as the shaggy-haired, cherry-lipped sex bomb). With his every thought consumed by his fantasies, Gary starts to practice the art of lucid dreaming with the help of a coach (Danny DeVito), bringing him closer to his ideal world of eroticism and professional appreciation.
"Good Night" is the debut feature for writer/director Jake Paltrow, son of filmmaker Bruce Paltrow and brother of Gwyneth. Normally, this type of nepotism curdles the blood, but in the case of Jake, the family business suits him exceedingly well. "Good Night" is a handsome, unexpected delight; a film not consumed with trailblazing theatrics, but the silent moments of behavior and interpersonal relationships. Paltrow commits himself wonderfully to the material, weaving a tapestry of sympathetic frustrations, bleary-eyed yearning, and off-kilter comedy.
This is not an easy film to classify, though it's hardly a David Lynch knockoff where the dream state is an endless hallway of uncertainty. Paltrow writes more honestly, looking to find the apprehensive areas between reality and slumber, where Gary finds himself trapped. It's a captivating character; a man lost in his own life, looking to the liberation of dreaming to cure his wounded ego, only to find waking life is a hard habit to break. Paltrow doesn't lose himself trying to bleed every sensation out of the material, and his light touch is tremendously successful pinpointing critical emotional cues the picture is eager to express.
Emotional density is provided in great part by a wonderful collection of performers. It's an impressive ensemble, especially the work from Freeman, who really shines here in ways other productions would never allow. An unusual choice for the leading man role, Freeman nevertheless infuses the part with great ache and bewilderment, expertly sucking up Gary's melancholy while allowing tender vulnerability to permeate his body language. His interaction with co-stars Pegg and Paltrow is just as perfect, hitting needed notes of comedy and relationship claustrophobia that help to swallow Gary's lofty motivations.
"Good Night" doesn't have profound psychological statements to make on lucid dreaming, which I could see infuriating some viewers. Most of the nocturnal wonderland is used to make a larger connection of Gary to his misery. However, the sequences are shot with a becoming drowsy glow, drawing the viewer into the highly sexual nature of the dreams and their obsessive grip on Gary. Paltrow avoids most surrealist clichés to make declarations of soulful hunger and reenergized libido that feed into the rest of the film.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1 aspect ratio), "Good Night" might trip some viewers up with its calculated usage of grain. The grain separates Gary's real world from his pristine dream life, and the DVD upholds this inviting visual stamp instead of trying to crudely process it out. Black levels are great and detail is vivid throughout. This is a great looking DVD, so sit back and enjoy the grain.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound mix follows the modest intention of "Good Night" and rarely rises above a dull roar. Dialogue is presently cleanly and mixed well with the potent soundtrack cuts (White Lion! Pulp!). However, this is a small-town indie film and is bestowed a satisfying, but reserved DVD sound design.
A feature-length audio commentary from writer/director Jake Paltrow is the DVD's only supplement, and perhaps this is all the dissection "The Good Night" requires. Recorded in his echo-filled apartment (the recording quality is not pleasant), Paltrow is very dry and very serious about his film, explaining his artistic choices with all the excitement of a college professor celebrating his 50th year on the job.
Paltrow talks about shooting the picture in freezing London, challenging the audience perception of big sis Gwyneth, reveling in the golden improvisational skills of Freeman and Pegg, and sharing his art-film influences. It's a difficult commentary to sit through, but it's interesting to hear Paltrow describe his creative process.
No "Good Night" theatrical trailer is included, but looks at "Untraceable," "Cleaner," "Slipstream," "What Love Is," "Revolver," "Southland Tales," "My Mom's New Boyfriend," and "88 Minutes" are included.
While curiously bookended with documentary interview footage (with an appearance by Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker), "Good Night" remains miraculously able to stick with its concept to the final shot. Paltrow stays on target to make a humble statement of tranquility, and the last reel submits a polite assortment of twists and turns that contributes to a peaceful tone. "The Good Night" is a superlative feature film from Jake Paltrow; a fulfilling buffet of aches and pains from the discontented, poured into an amusing, uneasy comedic fantasy that barely misses a step.
(screenshots do not reflect final product)
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