In the beautiful expanse of wilderness that is the Catskills, 17 year old Sam (Lily Collias) embarks on a backpacking trip with her dad Chris (James Le Gros) and his best friend Matt (Danny McCarthy). A fairly barebones plot structure withstanding, Good One is a wonderfully meditative debut from writer/director India Donaldson.
Often absorbed in silent thought Sam, a maturing young woman not that her father Chris notices, is the emotional compass for her two childish camping companions. Chris and Matt are both divorced, somewhere around 60 years old, and are comedically lacking in emotional intelligence. Matt often looks to Sam for advice concerning his dissolving marriage, showing his ability to see Sam as much more than a child. Meanwhile, her own father is busy absolving himself of any responsibility for the dissolution of his own marriage. Donaldson's pairing of a mature beyond her years young woman, with the emotional incompetence of two old best friends is not only hilarious, but incredibly well done. At no point does this juxtaposition feel self indulgent or forced, instead its a meticulous approach to establishing the thematic meat of Good One.
Not to mention its often infused with a healthy dose of humor. At one point in Sam's camping trip they encounter a group of young hikers, all of which are also obviously complete idiots. Once again, its not over emphasized but instead gently, and hilariously, mentioned through casual discourse. These kids have plenty of camping/hiking experience, and in fact have completed many of the same hikes Matt and Chris had back in their prime. Feeling threatened by the natural order of aging, Matt and Chris engage in a game of one-ups with these kids while Sam is sandwiched between bouts of varying levels of masculinity. In the expansive setting of the Catskills, Donaldson's writing and Collias' methodical acting create a feeling of claustrophobic cringe to Chris and Matt's behavior, but never enough to really cause discomfort.
That is until the film takes a calculated, dramatic turn that was somehow anticipated yet completely unexpected. But then again, isn't that what you want from a movie? A "twist" that's not really a twist, but a turn down a road that you weren't expecting. Its clear that something is bothering Matt and Chris beyond what meets the eye and their inability to comprehend emotions of others while grappling with their own aging masculinity is the perfect recipe for climactic revelations. Slowly, but surely, the sweeping wilderness begins to close in around Sam, and the viewers, creating an undeniably claustrophobic feel for Good One. While I wasn't 100% sold on it before, I haven't been able to really get this out of my mind, continually contemplating Donaldson's writing and style.
While I think it was a bit slow, even if for the correct effect, I think Good One could've benefitted from a bit more meat on the bone. Int he end though, Donaldson's debut is a phenomenal entrance and is matched with an equally incredible performance from Collias. Reserved yet outwardly expressive when it matters most, Collias puts on a fantastic show in a film meant to showcase her role. The ending left me with yearning for a bit less abstract of closure, but ultimately Good One is as rich of a minimal film as you can get. Making it easy to watch, unforgettable, and entertaining all in one. A rare mixture for a debut film!
I can totally see Donaldson becoming a household name after this film. It didn't totally sit with me while I was watching and I can't wait to get another viewing, but for a feature film debut I couln't stop thinking about it. Good One is simple, meticulous, well-done, and executed with a vision which I think is all you can ask for in a film? Obviously Donaldson has the writing and directing chops, along with Collias' acting, and I can't wait to see her in another project! That being said, I think we need something classic, yet a little complex to be able to dive a little deeper. Thankfully we have Moab Brewery's Johnny's IPA to aid us in this quest! A dry hopping finish gives this brew a great hoppy finale that's a welcome bit of depth amongst its citrus tastes. Easy to drink and refreshing as hell, its the perfect pairing with Good One with their respective approachability. Not to mention, both end up packing one hell of a punch especially with Johnny's IPA bringing in a 7% ABV.
Just make sure you don't forget a sleeping bag on your next camping trip.