As adolescence progresses (and let’s leave some hormonal wiggle room), 17-year-old Sam is what most would call a Well: Smart, thoughtful, down-to-earth, self-sufficient but not averse to advice, the kind of girl parents can’t help but brag about, while her friends wish their own nightmare children were a little more like her. she. But that reputation has its downside, as elders take the teen’s compliance and good humor for granted and expect undue concessions for their own irresponsibility. Screenwriter-director India Donaldson explores that uncomfortable role reversal with gentleness and care in his debut feature, “Good One,” monitoring the white lies and red flags that arise over the course of a father-daughter camping weekend upstate. from New York.
Premiering in the U.S. dramatic competition at this year’s Sundance festival, “Good One” is a modest but certainly insightful indie film that makes no grand claims over a brief 89-minute running time. Instead, the film invites viewers to look closer, to identify flaws and consequential points of identification in what might seemingly seem like a low-stakes narrative. Perhaps it’s accidental that Donaldson’s premise recalls Kelly Reichardt’s 2006 miniature “Old Joy” as if it had been repeated two decades later, with a new, almost adult intruder confusing the once comfortable dynamic between two middle-aged friends in a wooded retreat. But there is certainly some resemblance here to the subtext-driven silence of Reichardt’s cinema, in which throwaway lines and actions take on tacit weight as the hours, and then days, and perhaps even years pass.
But that’s getting ahead of the film and its tight three-day schedule: a mere snapshot of long-standing relationships, but long enough to discern the tensions that have been brewing and the affections that have been shifting for quite some time. Fifty-something contractor Chris (James Le Gros) seems to get along very well with Sam (Lily Collias), his only daughter, who takes his father’s jokes and his sometimes clumsy personal questions with good grace. ; He is a sincerely loving and interested father, and has evidently accepted his open and proud homosexuality without difficulty. There may be flashes of resentment on his part stemming from his parents’ divorce and Chris’s culpable role in it, but overall, he has matured and put aside his youthful resentments.
College beckons, and with it, independent adulthood. The camping trip to the Catskills that Chris and Sam are planning might be the last in a long family tradition between them, but there’s an air of finality to it: a sense that their roles won’t be the same in the future. They won’t go alone: Chris’s oldest friend, Matt (Danny McCarthy), will join them, along with his own teenage son, although their relationship is more complicated than that between Chris and Sam. At the last minute, the surly kid pulls out, leaving Matt, a scruffy former actor with none of his friend’s outdoor skills, as an awkward third party in this heartwarming father-daughter journey.
Sam doesn’t care; It is his nature not to do so. But there is a growing sense of imbalance in the way these two older, boastful men converse with this quiet young woman, often using her as a sounding board for their middle-aged complaints and self-pity, and praising her for her insightful responses in a way that it feels condescending and a little conditional. Sam is allowed, to a certain extent, to be jovially critical of her clumsy masculinity, but only on her terms: she is ignored or warned when she becomes too sincere for her liking.
As the trio make their way across rocks and rivers, their talk rambles so softly and cheerfully that at first you don’t realize how one-sided it is: a full day passes before anyone asks Sam anything. significant about herself. And when, one night by the campfire, an exchange of banter between Sam and Matt goes bafflingly far, it soon becomes clear that, despite Chris’s growing irritation with his friend, she is one against two, and once most expected to be the youngest. -but-greater person in the face of the defects of the greatest of her. Donaldson’s thoughtful script cleverly avoids the head-on confrontations that can be much easier to initiate in movies than in real life, as characters test and admonish each other through passive-aggressive gestures and politely charged observations.
First seen two years ago in a supporting role in “Palms and Power Lines,” Collias impresses in a role that doesn’t give him great extremes of expression. Sam’s tempered demeanor may simply be his nature, but Collias’ tense performance shows how he’s also a defender; Wilson Cameron’s camera stares at her long enough in soft, sun-dappled close-up that we finally see the muscles clenching behind the calm. A superb Le Gros reflects her composure while also enjoying the luxury of the alpha male’s outward-facing waves of anger and irritation; McCarthy offers a stronger looseness that gradually builds more tension than it breaks.
The friction between these three conflicting energies builds to a climax that some viewers may find overly understated (a dead end perhaps more characteristic of the short film’s structure), but which also feels true to the characters and their ongoing lives. It takes more than a weekend for a “good” one to assert its most demanding complications, but Donaldson’s sly, thoughtful debut takes Sam to the brink of something: not just adulthood, but a revised view of his childhood. , a realization more seismic than any shouting match.