The 2024 Netflix film titled Good Grief gets trapped in the beautiful scenery and aesthetic obsessions of London and Paris, and for a moment, it forgets that it has some grave things to explore. Grief is a universal emotion, and some have it worse than others, but it really is a luxury in this world to get a chance to sit with that emotion and process it. There are people in this world who don’t even get a second for themselves as they are buried with responsibilities. Good Grief is not set in that kind of world.
It is, to put it mildly, a film set in a world of opulence and a lot of leisurely feeling. Marcus (Dan Levy) and Oliver (Luke Evans), a gay couple living in London, have an open marriage, and neither one of them is ready to admit that there are problems in their arrangement. Oliver passes away after his taxi gets in a deadly accident, and Marcus is left to his own devices to deal with the loss. Sophie and Thomas, two close friends, come in to rescue Marcus from the rut he gets himself into, and the story takes a turn when Oliver’s Paris connection comes into the picture. The opulence I mentioned is no way intended to indicate that it takes something away from the grief of a person, but it’s just that the whole story has to have a very solid foundation to set the psychological insights of the characters.
Good Grief begins with a party scene, which is always good for a small-budget film. Characters get introduced quite economically, and all their interaction brings out conflicts and the intellectual makeup of the characters. Oliver’s demise immediately arrests you as a viewer and makes you empathize with Marcus’ situation. But then the film makes it clear that this isn’t one of those sobbing and tear-jerking dramas where the viewer will be manipulated for the tears. Sophie is played by Ruth Negga, and she understands this assignment pretty well and never allows her character to wallow in self-pity. Neither does Himesh Patel, who plays Thomas. For the little time Luke Evans is on the screen, he makes us feel like there is absolutely nothing wrong with his life and that he is the life of the party. He perfectly embodies the role of a wealthy man, and all his movements seem precise, yet all of it leaves us wanting to know the character more intimately. As for Marcus, there is very little change in his body language over the course of the movie, and Dan Levy, who also wrote and directed the movie, seems to have had too many hats on to bring nuance into the performance.
Good Grief is interested in giving us a beautiful experience, it seems. There are shots of trees and streets that look great, no denying that, but I would definitely have wanted to see the contrast as well. Why? Well, then the movie could have created some visual conflict. These are just some thoughts regarding the visual form, but coming to the written content, the decision that Marcus makes to take Sophie and Thomas to Paris to ‘thank’ them comes as a little jarring and half-baked. With the aesthetic the film aims for, it starts to feel like it’s exploring beauty and desire, and a little bit of melancholy as well while you’re at it. The real honest-to-god exploration of grief is touched on only superficially, which is the most frustrating element of the film. With all its beautiful shots, the movie is quite dialogue-heavy. There is a lot of ‘telling’ in this movie and very little showing.
Not all films are supposed to give us answers, but the fun is in the attempt to find one. Good Grief becomes a shallow experience as it is too careful with its dark humor. It never gives the audience a real look at someone’s harrowing experience. There is a scene in the movie that comes at a point where things could have exploded. It is placed in such a way, but it ultimately dissolves into another sequence where there is a lot of ‘telling’. The scene I’m referring to is when Oliver’s lover, Luca, walks into Marcus’ life. That was when Thomas was about to explode, and Sophie had learned something drastic about the state of her life. The writing seems to have carefully hampered the scene, and the performers have doubled down on curbing the ‘unnecessary’ drama. Explosive drama in a low-key LGBTQ+ indie film isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The characters come off as too wartless. We are told incessantly that they have a lot of issues, but we never really get to witness any of them played out to their fullest. Sophie’s ‘bus stop’ moment is left to our imagination, as is Thomas’ boyfriend’s behavior and Thomas’ reaction to it as well. Marcus may be the person whose grief we should be worried about, and there as well, we get a sanitized version of his temper when he clearly chooses anger over love. The scenes in the film prove the reverse.
Good Grief works best when seen as a movie about young adults (although Marcus is 38) who still have a lot of stuff to figure out. The topic of open marriage couldn’t be fully explored to show its impact on couples. Ruth Negga turns out to be the scene stealer. She has an annoying sadness she carries in each scene, and it’s annoying because she has no intention of facing it. The inner conflicts, even though they are just viewed very superficially, do more for her character than Marcus’ conflicts do for him. The performances are believable, but not when Dan Levy decides to casually speak out the most hidden secrets of Marcus’ psyche. The approach may have been to hit the audience like a truck, but the desired effect is missing; the cameos by Emma Corrin and Kaitlyn Dever are hilarious though. In the end, Good Grief gets the melancholy of Paris but feels lacking in using the location to explore the overcoming of loss, but skips to telling us that everything will be fine if we all just process it. Perhaps a trip would help. No? Well, then you are on your own.