Good Night: SXSW Review

Good Night Still - H 2013

Good Night Still - H 2013

Love and death rear their heads during a tiresome all-night birthday party.

Austin-based filmmakers create an ensemble drama showcased at this year's festival.

This is a story you’ve seen before:  A bunch of friends get together for a birthday party, and during a long night of booze and drugs, sexual attractions simmer, tensions flare and dark secrets are revealed.  Sean H.A. Gallagher, the writer-director of Good Night, acknowledges the influence of the Danish film The Celebration, but there are also echoes of The Big Chill and even Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Unfortunately, this low-budget effort pales in comparison to most earlier variations on the same theme.  The film played SXSW, partly because Gallagher and some of the actors are Austin-based, but it won’t travel far beyond the plains of Texas.

Leigh (Adriene Mishler) is celebrating her 29th birthday with husband Winston (Jonny Mars) and nine friends. But soon after the party starts, she drops a bombshell. The cancer that they all thought was in remission has returned with a virulent vengeance, and so the celebratory party is likely to be a farewell bash. Winston has laced the birthday cake with marijuana in the hopes of eliciting more honest emotion from the startled party guests. But several of them are so wrapped up in their own concerns that they have little empathy to offer Leigh.

Gallagher is not an experienced enough writer to juggle all these characters and storylines. It’s hard to get a handle on several of the guests. There’s an ex-lover of Leigh’s, but we never really learn much about their backstory. A couple of self-absorbed lawyers (played by Laura Clifton and Girls’ Alex Karpovsky) do register vividly, perhaps because they’re amusingly obnoxious characters. 

Occasionally, the main narrative is interrupted by flashbacks to Leigh’s earlier illness. Here the film raises some sharp, pertinent comments about the state of healthcare in this country and the battles to persuade insurance companies to pay for expensive treatments. It might have been more rewarding to focus more on this part of the plot, especially because the dinner party is short on wit and insight.

Fortunately, the two leads are attractive and engaging. But most of the supporting players are wasted. The film also shows very little visual flair; the settings are monotonously constricted. There’s something of a surprise ending that actually may not be such a surprise to viewers who have seen Amour. In any case, this moment of drama comes too late to rescue a meandering, lackluster talkfest.

Venue:  SXSW Film Festival.

Cast:  Adriene Mishler, Jonny Mars, Jeff Benson, Todd Berger, Laura Clifton, Chris Doubek, Parisa Fakhri, Alex Karpovsky, Jason Newman, Elizabeth Riley.

Director-screenwriter:  Sean H.A. Gallagher.

Producers:  Jonny Mars, Sean H.A. Gallagher.

Executive producer:  Chris Ohlson.

Director of photography:  Jason Eitelbach.

Production designer:  Yvonne Boudreaux.

Editors:  Don Howard, David Fabelo.

No rating, 83 minutes.