Good Night, The: Feature Debut of Jake Paltrow (Gwyneth’s Brother)

Reviewed by Tim Grierson

The feature debut of writer-director Jake Paltrow (son of actress Blythe Danner and brother of star Gwyneth Paltrow) suggests a filmmaker with some interesting ideas, but on the whole, The Good Night lacks a compelling point of view or sharp-enough vision to warrant attention.

Though it builds to a nicely bittersweet ending, only in its resolution does the films commentary on the danger and seductiveness of dreams achieve any emotional weight.

Gary (Martin Freeman) is a Londoner living in New York with his longtime girlfriend Dora (Gwyneth Paltrow). After a brief, successful career in a band, Gary now writes commercial jingles, which he finds tedious; Dora has no respect for. His stagnant career is just one thing the disillusioned couple fights about, and its clear that their partnership has seen happier days.

Relief comes to Gary in an unexpected way: sleep. He starts dreaming of an exotic beauty named Anna (Penelope Cruz) who loves him unconditionally, offering the kind of freedom and contentment he lacks in his waking life. Reality and dreams collide when Paul (Simon Pegg), his former bandmate and current boss, arranges for him to meet the actual woman, who is a supermodel.

Borrowing the edgier urban romanticism of Woody Allens best films, Paltrows Good Night is an examination of love, art and happiness and the inability to achieve all three. The pithy dialogue between Gary and Paul and the confessional exchanges of Gary and Dora feel inspired by such Allen works as Hannah and Her Sisters and Husbands and Wives, in which well-educated, successful New Yorkers express the anxieties and desires.

Unfortunately, Paltrow doesnt have the masters gift for clever exchanges or interesting characters, and the structure of his film resembles Allens as well as his imitators comedy-dramas. Furthermore, Good Night offers no deep observations on any real dilemmas facing its protagonists. While Gary and Doras relationship is not harmonious, their problems hardly seem severe or particularly compelling. Likewise, Garys struggle between his dreamtime love and real girlfriend is so narrowly constructed that he comes across as shallow rather than tortured about the emotional affair he has while sleeping.

The films weaknesses can be linked to Paltrows portrayal of Garys dream world. Anna is meant to be an unattainable, idealized version of luscious feminine beauty, but the woman we see on screen is all surface. Part of the blame goes to Penelope Cruz, who can revert to an icy blankness when not pushed properly by her director. But Anna is a boring object of desire, neither particularly sexual nor intoxicatingly fascinating; she drifts through the dream sequences like a lobotomized mannequin, a print-ad model brought to life.

If Paltrow had intended to satirize mens obsession with gorgeous but vacant women, the deficiencies in the characterization would instead be strengths. But Good Night requires that the audience perceive Anna as the far superior choice to the shrewish Dora.

For her part, Gwyneth Paltrow gives Dora a sympathetic side, but as the character is meant to be hyper-critical of Gary, it’s ultimately unlikable. In general, the female characters are either mean or sexual while their male counterparts are lovable and complex, and at worse crass, but in a comedic way.

Fans of the original BBC version of The Office have been waiting for Martin Freeman to enjoy the same success colleague Ricky Gervais has cultivated since the sitcoms conclusion. Unfortunately, Freeman continues to suffer through uninteresting roles, though Good Night isnt as dreadful as his high-profile part in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Freemans problem in Paltrows film is that his character is a depressive whos less humorously downbeat and more miserable. Gary is a bit of a whiner, and while Freeman lends some shaggy-dog humanity to the role, its not enough to dismiss the feeling that the character needs to snap out of his self-pity rather than engage in this impossible infatuation with imaginary woman.

In their scenes together, Freeman and Pegg, best known for Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, are wonderfully funny in a natural way that stands in stark contrast to the more orchestrated bits of comedy elsewhere. Playing an arrogant heel, Pegg manages that rare trick of portraying a preening narcissist without ever making you think that the actor himself has a little of the same unattractive qualities.

At the films finale, Garys problems with Dora reach a surprising climax brought on, ironically, by his dream-world affair with Anna. Only here does Good Night achieve a shrewd insight into how idealized version of our lives can both hamper and heighten our day-to-day reality.

Once Jake Paltrow learns to step away from his influences, and tries writing characters with greater depth, such insights may start occurring with more frequency in his work as filmmaker.

Credits

Running time: 93 minutes

Production companies: Destination Films, Tempesta Films, MHF Zweite Academy Film
U.S. distribution: Yari Film Group, Inferno Distribution
Executive producers: Jim Seibel, Robert Whitehouse, Oliver Hengst, Ernst-August Schneider.
Producers: Donna Gigliotti, Bill Johnson
Co-producer: Nicky Kentish Barnes
Directed, written by Jake Paltrow
Cinematography: Giles Nuttgens
Editor: Rick Lawley
Production design: Eve Stewart
Music: Alec Puro

Cast

Martin Freeman (Gary)
Gwyneth Paltrow (Dora)
Penelope Cruz (Anna)
Simon Pegg (Paul)
Danny DeVito (Mel)