SXSW FILM 2013
By Linc Leifeste | March 19, 2013
Director: Sean Gallagher
Writer: Sean Gallagher
Starring: Adriene Mishler, Jonny Mars, Todd Berger, Alex Karpovsky, Samantha Thomson, Laura Clifton, Parisa Fakhri, Jason Newman, Chris Doubek, Elizabeth Riley, Jeff Benson
I’ll start off by saying that I think it’s hard to beat a well crafted ensemble piece that features a talented cast. And does Good Night ever feature a talented cast. If the names Todd Berger, Alex Karpovsky, Jason Newman and Chris Doubek don’t mean anything to you, you haven’t been paying adequate attention. Get those four together on (or off) screen and you can be guaranteed good things are going to happen. And there’s not a shabby performance to be found here, with actors previously unknown to me (Samantha Thomson, Laura Clifton, Parisa Fakhri, Elizabeth Riley and Jeff Benson) all giving top notch performances.
Winston (Jonny Mars) and Leigh Rockwall (Adriene Mishler) have invited their closest friends over for a dinner party to celebrate Leigh’s 29th birthday. Even showing up, surprisingly invited by Winston, is an old squeeze of Leigh’s, Max (Chris Doubek). Everyone is having a grand time over dinner but shortly after the birthday cake is served and consumed, Leigh makes a shocking announcement and everything changes. As the guests process Leigh’s announcement emotions swell and frustrations rise but ultimately the guests settle back into the rhythm of a late night dinner party. And really, that’s all Winston and Leigh want, is for their guests to have a fun night together.
Director Sean Gallagher has put together a well written gut punch of a film, one that while not overtly political in nature, delivers a damning indictment of the American health care system and larger social structure. Through a series of flashbacks and narration we discover why and how the Rockwalls have found themselves in the precarious situation they’re in. Shortly after making the decision to buy a house that they can barely afford, through no fault of their own, their lives are altered by an event outside of their control. Soon they’re living in a world of debt and stress and things are spiraling quickly out of control, with their friends and family all feeling the impact emotionally and financially.
Gallagher does an admirable job of subtly building greater and greater empathy for the plight of Winston and Leigh as the film plays out. While viewing I occasionally had the slightest feeling that the film was dragging a bit, with some editing choices striking me as odd (multiple extended cuts to a black screen that at one point had me wondering if the film had stopped playing and multiple extended voiceover narrations that didn’t completely work), but as the film’s heart-wrenching closing was playing out I realized just how invested I’d become in the lives of these two characters. While I give Gallagher’s script and direction a lot of credit for that, I also have to credit the wonderful performances of Adriene Mishler and Jonny Mars and the onscreen charisma the two share. I’d previously known Mishler mostly from live theater performances but can only imagine we’ll be seeing more of her on screen in the future. As for Jonny Mars, who seemed to be appearing in every other film playing at the South by Southwest Film Festival, the man is quickly establishing himself as a nothing less than a force of nature. His subtle performance will stick with you long after the credits roll.
(Also, check out our SXSW video interview with Sean Gallagher, Alex Karpovsky and Jonny Mars.)