'As Good as You': Film Review

AS GOOD AS YOU - Still 1 - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of First Run Features
Filmmaking-as-therapy produces a personal pic with a limited audience.

Laura Heisler plays a woman trying to ease grief by getting pregnant in Heather de Michele's dramedy.

A seriocomic look at questionable choices made during a time of mourning, Heather de Michele's As Good as You finds a woman who, in the wake of her wife's death, fumblingly tries to conceive the child they'd intended to have before illness overtook their lives. Very obviously the product of personal experience, the picture shares some of its protagonist's awkwardness and unsure footing. But it will likely be welcomed by some lesbian moviegoers, who see themselves represented onscreen rarely enough to be forgiving when they're both in the spotlight and behind the scenes.

In her feature debut, de Michele directs a semi-autobiographical script by first-timer Gretchen M. Michelfeld, who lost her own partner to uterine cancer several years ago. Michelfeld's surrogate here is Jo (Laura Heisler), a forty-something Angeleno who nursed her partner Amanda through a long terminal illness; the loss is fresh enough that (in rather stagey sequences) she still has frequent flashbacks to happy domestic scenes.

In an emotional moment at the memorial service, Jo surprised Amanda's younger brother Jaime (Bryan Dechart) with an idea she says the couple had long ago: Rather than going to a sperm bank to have a child together, they should keep it in the family by asking him. Drunk on grief and wine, he said yes.

But doctors have insisted that before they start Jo on the hormones she may need to conceive at this age, she and her donor-to-be must attend a counseling session with Annie Potts' Dr. Berg. Perhaps as planned, the grilling Berg puts them through throws Jo off-course, highlighting her desperate state — "I just need this baby so bad!" — and inspiring some in the audience to fear for any child she might conceive at this point.

Soon, her overemotional state gets in the way of relationships between Jo and her two best buddies Lisa (Anna Fitzwater) and Nate (Raoul Bhaneja). Frequent hangout scenes in Lisa's bar make it clear that the film values this small community much more than Jo's potential motherhood, but Jo screws things up by sleeping with both Lisa and Nate in the span of a day or two, then getting weird on each independently.

Heisler is uncomfortably demonstrative of the intense mix of emotions Jo experiences after creating this minor mess, becoming such a basket case that a second visit with Dr. Berg becomes inevitable. Unfortunately, the visit turns into a bit of deus ex machina, with the "shitty therapist" pulling out a feel-good exercise ("Ask your feet why they feel restless") that provokes an unbelievably sudden breakthrough. If Michelfeld went through anything like Jo's turmoil, one assumes it took a good deal more time and work to get through it; writing As Good as You appears to have been one step in her therapy that doesn't necessarily need to be shown to strangers.

Production company: Tanky Productions
Distributor: First Run Features
Cast: Laura Heisler, Anna Fitzwater, Raoul Bhaneja, Bryan Dechart, Annie Potts
Director: Heather de Michele
Screenwriter-executive producer: Gretchen M. Michelfeld
Producer: Reena Dutt
Director of photography: Robert Webb
Editor: Trevor Carlee
Composers: Trevor Carlee, Melineh Kurdian

86 minutes