GOODBYE WORLD is a different kind of disaster movie led by a first-rate cast

goodbye_world_xlgRating: ★★★ Goodbye World is a film that spends its duration searching for a transcendent moment, when people and places shimmer in an extraordinary light. Finally achieving this minutes before the end credits, it’s a reminder of the importance of tragedy in life (apocalyptic or otherwise) for making us see the true value of the people we surround ourselves with and who matter most when everything else is torn away. For seven estranged college friends reuniting at the rural cabin retreat of James (Adrian Grenier) and Lily (Kerry Bishé), it takes a cataclysmic event to truly bring them back together. After a mysterious mass text activates a nationwide cyber-attack leaving them with no power and dwindling supplies, the prospect of Armageddon is a little hard to contemplate, so instead they spend their weekend contemplating each other and the defective friendships, disenchanted marriages, and dashed dreams that have caused them to drift apart. Opening with a suicide attempt, comparisons abound with Lawrence Kasdan’s era-defining film about a close-knit group rediscovering one another through the repercussions of a suicide. But while the obvious poster quote might read “The Big Chill meets Deep Impact,” a more apt comparison would be the escalating paranoia of the similarly budgeted Right at Your Door meets the more-poignant-less-portentous The Return of the Secaucus Seven. Despite its out in nature setting and reminiscent lo-fi bickering, Goodbye World can’t claim the same sharply observed naturalism of that John Sayles masterpiece, co-writers Denis Hennelly and Sarah Adina Smith standing accused of devising an idea of transcendence and reverse engineering it to include the end of the world as the most capricious of triggers for a character study. Forgivable in light of the modern day disaster movie’s excessive tendency for destructo-porn, one appreciates the filmmakers’ attempts to put a human face back on the genre. Absent of an effects budget, it’s a rare example of its type where quieter moments take precedence over set pieces and the exterior threat of extinction pales in comparison to the interior fissures of friendship. -8 And just like the disaster movie, we expect almost every ensemble indie dramady to hit a certain set of beats, gradually emptying its closet of the group’s skeletons. All of them have backstories to be exhumed, no one’s with who they ought to be with, and the script contorts to neatly set each character up to have something going on with someone else. The familiarity of knowing that Nick (Ben McKenzie) is married to the wrong woman and will make a last days play for the fiancé who got away is part of the fun. This frees up Nick’s wife Becky (Caroline Dhavernas) to be the first person in years to see the soul behind Benji’s (Mark Webber) impassioned but somewhat sophomoric conspiratorial ranting. A touring lecturer whose big talk of Cultural Revolution stems from a teenage protest in which he set something on fire and was thrown in jail, it’s a moment Benji’s been failing to live up to ever since and just as the relationship with the student (Remy Nozik) he’s brought with him to the cabin can’t last, we know that he’ll eventually heed the call of the revolutionary plume of smoke rising up over the city, urging him to put his political convictions into action. It’s the most contrived trajectory, but the newfound sensitivity of Webber’s recent work does well to ground it. There’s no doubt that James’ sister Lisa (Gabby Hoffmann) has the courage of her own, more legit political convictions, but disgraced after her sexscapades with a married politician went viral, she’s no longer able to find employment in the corridors of power. Conveniently she finds self-worth in the eyes of Lev (Scott Mescudi), a disconnected hacker who may have something to do with the sudden collapse of civilisation. If the true worth of Lisa’s democratic beliefs definitively trumping the scandal which hangs over her smacks of rote redemption, the writers are nothing if not knowing. A critical-moment-Independence-Day-style speech reminding looting neighbours of the humanity they’ve lost, being delivered by the actress whose character on the current season of Girls complained about losing a role in Independence Day at an audition is a further riff on Hoffmann’s own experience as a childhood actor, during which time she even starred in the disaster movie Volcano as Tommy Lee Jones’ daughter. Here she’s very much front and centre of a disaster movie she can call her own, commanding all of the ensemble scenes in which she appears and given all the best lines. When Lily invites her friend to borrow her underwear insisting on their freshness, Lisa tartly replies, “Yes, but the memory remains.” still-of-gaby-hoffmann-in-goodbye-world-(2013)-large-picture As with her childhood, the script makes meta wisecracks about the Gabby Hoffman of now. Unafraid of shedding her clothes in everything from The Crystal Fairy to the aforementioned Girls and Amazon’s recently commissioned series Transparent, when renegade bikers barter extortionately marked up grocery store goods for a “booby show” Lisa doesn’t sweat it. “No big deal” she says, the whole world’s seen my tits.” A scene in which Hoffmann and Webber gaze upon the destruction decimating the city below them from the relative safety of the hills is a welcome pause for reflection on the careers of two performers who’ve grown up on our screens, and a moment to recognise what fine actors they’ve become. Straddled between two genres, the film is threatened by twice the number of clichés, but in the company of some of the finest, on-the-rise young talent who’ve already put their time in, this is never a serious concern. Kerry Bishé who made such an impression in the latterday works of Edward Burns and the Oscar-winning Argo was recently underserved by Grand Piano and it’s great to see her back on track if not quite on the same form. Adrian Grenier is of course best known for HBO’s Entourage, but he’s never been better (or more beardy) as one of those people so convinced about the correct course of action to take in any situation that it makes them deeply irritating. Notably, the end of the world is great for one thing. Disabling people’s phones. On the evidence of early scenes and simmering in the background for the rest of the film, Lev’s unexplained world-weary disillusionment probably has much to do with enduring bonds weakened by modern technology. Since college he’s had more FaceTime than face-to-face time with any of his old friends. There may not be anything obviously transcendental about blowing oversized bubbles into the air and counting how many seconds they float there until popping, but its simplicity is made all the more sublime as a group activity not experienced through the camera of an iPhone. First published by Vérité Film Magazine on April 5, 2014


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