Lost in the Reel’s Video Review for “Good Grief”

As a huge fan of Schitt’s Creek, I have been eagerly awaiting the return of Dan Levy.  Despite a memorable turn in Clea Duvall’s charming Christmas film Happiest Season and a few bit parts in stinkers like The Haunted Mansion and HBO’s maligned series The Idol… Levy seems to have mostly taken a step back from the spotlight after his Emmy-winning turn in the beloved comedy show that turned him into a household name.  But, he has finally returned in full creative force with his new Netflix film, Good Grief, in which he not only stars in, but also writes and directs.  And although I do think his feature debut definitely shows the signs of a first-timer tinkering and flailing a bit with his craft… there is enough talent on display and pure passion for the material, that makes this a worthwhile watch.


Good Grief follows Marc, a painter content living in the shadow of his larger-than-life husband, Oliver.  But when Oliver unexpectedly dies, Marc’s world completely shatters, sending him and his two best friends, Sophie and Thomas, on a soul-searching trip to Paris.  A trip that reveals hard truths they each need to face before moving on with their lives.


One thing that I have to mention before moving forward, is that if you haven’t seen the trailer… please don’t watch it before you watch the film.  Because Netflix did Levy a real disservice by showing way too much in their promotional materials.  I wish that I was able to go in blind, as one of the plot reveals doesn’t happen until nearly halfway through the film, and I think having not known that information, the movie would have had even more of an emotional impact.  


One of the best things about Good Grief, is its trio of stars at its center.  And while I will get to Levy’s performance in a second, I just have to commend his two counterparts.  Loving and Passing’s Ruth Negga continues to be a force to be reckoned with.  Her character Sophie is a whirlwind of effervescence and also “hot mess” chaos, and she steals every scene she is in. Yesterday’s Himesh Patel gives a much more low-key performance as Thomas.  And although his character’s motivations and actions were frustrating to me at times, Patel is able to inject so much heart into him.  In any other performer’s hands, I would have written Thomas off as completely irritating, but Patel is so likable and earnest, that it’s easy to forgive this character’s flaws.  

And then there’s Daniel Levy…  Out of all of the hats he wears for his work on Good Grief, his performance is the most affecting.  While he showed his outlandish comedic chops in Schitts Creek, he reveals a whole new side to his talents here.  There were multiple scenes in this movie that the mere sight of Levy’s distant stare or tear-filled eyes gut-punched me with so much emotion.  He is also able to inject humor into this character and the film as well, although in a much more dry, understated way than what we are used to from his previous work.  By the end, I connected to his character Marc in such a genuine way… and I think most audiences will, as well.  There’s something truly special about Dan Levy and his performances, that allows people into his world; whatever world that might be.


Good Grief is also a great showcase for Levy’s eye behind the camera.  While the film isn’t immensely showy like some directorial debuts can be, he really brings Paris to life in a magical way.  There is this feeling that one gets when these characters leave London for the city of lights, that they’ve been whisked to this fantastical, wondrous realm.  And I honestly never wanted to leave.  His whimsical, thoughtful direction adds a levity to balance the heaviness of his screenplay.  


Speaking of the screenplay… this is where I see a lot of room for growth for Levy.  There are a lot of things I love about it though.  First off, the fact that Good Grief is just as much about platonic love, as it is about relationships and dealing with grief.  There is something so refreshing about seeing a movie give just as much insight into the power of friendships and their struggles, as it does the romantic exploits of thirty-somethings.  Secondly, I appreciate Levy’s insistence to not necessarily take the plot where you would expect it to go.  This could have ridden the ferris wheel of formula, but instead Levy takes a journey with his character’s that feels more organic and honest.  

What doesn’t feel as organic and honest all of the time, is the dialogue.  There’s something just a little too on-the-nose and too picked-apart-to-be-perfect about his screenplay.  It’s as if each character is reciting lines from an eloquent soliloquy and has the wit of a seasoned comedian.  Luckily Levy and his actors all have the chops to pull this dialogue off, but even so, something about it feels unnatural and forced. 

While I connected to this film deeply because of its themes and thoughtful meditations on friendship, love, loss, and of course, grief… I felt myself disconnected from the characters at times, because everything they spewed felt a little too meticulously thought out. For his next film, if Levy can harness all of the great things that Good Grief brings to the table, and produce more raw and natural dialogue along with it, he will have a masterpiece on his hands.


Although his feature debut has its flaws, just like all of his characters in it… Dan Levy proves with Good Grief, that he is a true gift.  I really hope that he doesn’t wait too long for his next creative endeavor, as seeing him on screen (or now behind it, as well) brings a sense of joy to me.  As I’m sure it does, so many others.  With this film he shows the promise of a long, memorable and exciting career which will undoubtedly prove that Schitt’s Creek and Good Grief were just the beginning of something really special. 

“Good Grief” will be Streaming on Netflix on January 5th, 2024

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