Wednesday, August 30, 2017

In Theaters: GOOD TIME (2017)

(US/Luxembourg - 2017)

Directed by Josh and Benny Safdie. Written by Josh Safdie and Ronald Bronstein. Cast: Robert Pattinson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Benny Safdie, Barkhad Abdi, Buddy Duress, Taliah Webster, Peter Verby, Necro, Rose Gregorio, Gladys Mathon, Saida Mansoor, Eric Paykert, Robert Clohessy, George Lee Miles. (R, 101 mins)

In the tradition of SPRING BREAKERS, THE ROVER, THE WITCH, IT COMES AT NIGHT, and A GHOST STORY, GOOD TIME is another love-it-or-hate-it A24 pickup that gets great reviews from critics but a toxic reception in wide release and almost immediately becomes a revered cult movie. A Palme d'Or contender at Cannes and the most high-profile film to date from sibling indie auteurs Josh and Benny Safdie, who earned significant acclaim for their 2014 heroin addiction drama HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT (Josh, the elder of the pair, got some indie buzz for his 2008 solo effort THE PLEASURE OF BEING ROBBED), GOOD TIME is like nothing else you've seen in multiplexes this year. It's brash, ballsy, and out of its own time, and with its grainy look and a supporting cast of mostly amateur actors from Queens and Flushing, it resembles a 2017 interpretation of one of those really gritty NYC films of Abel Ferrara or Paul Morrissey, while owing a debt to the "No Wave" movement of no-budget DIY movies in the early 1980s that helped establish underground filmmakers like Jim Jarmusch, Eric Mitchell, Beth B, Susan Seidelman, Slava Tsukerman, and Amos Poe. The garish Argento colorgasms in Sean Price Williams' cinematography and propulsive, non-stop Tangerine Dream-ish score by Oneohtrix Point Never (Daniel Lopatin) give it an enervating, exhilarating aura that's hypnotic and surreal, like a nightmare from which its hapless shit show of a "hero," Constantine "Connie" Nikas can't wake. As played by Robert Pattinson, whose post-TWILIGHT career choices are proof positive that he's a serious actor who's made more money than he'll ever need and is drawn to challenging projects with very little mainstream appeal, Connie is a petty criminal and a total loser who doesn't realize he's a loser. He's got big ideas and seems to pull them off but they always lead to bigger problems and end up sucking more unfortunate bystanders into his toxic orbit. Nobody has a good time in GOOD TIME, which is one of these familiar "survive the night" scenarios, but pulled off with such imaginative panache that it ends up being one of the most stylish fusions of sight and sound this side of BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW.

After crashing a therapy session for his mentally-challenged, deaf younger brother Nick (co-director Benny Safdie), Connie talks his brother into accompanying him on a Flushing bank robbery that almost works. They wear very lifelike masks that don't attract attention from the other customers and the teller follows directions and doesn't hit the panic button. Of course it's too good to be true, since the dye packs explode in their getaway car. While fleeing the cops, Connie gets away but Nick is apprehended and taken to Rikers. Connie takes the stained money to a bail bondsman, who says he still needs another $10,000 to get Nick out. The rest of the film chronicles Connie's attempts to bail Nick out, running into one problem after another, starting with his older sometime-girlfriend Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a hot mess in her 40s who seems to have stopped maturing at 17 and is so stupidly infatuated with Connie that she lets him badger her ("What the fuck's the problem? It's like a loan...you'll get it right back!") into unsuccessfully trying to use her mom's credit card for Nick's bail. That doesn't work, and Connie then finds out that Nick can't be bailed out anyway since he's been involved in a fight in jail and has been taken to a hospital in the city, prompting one of the least-plausible escape sequences you'll ever see, and eventually leading to the introduction of three other key characters: just-paroled Queens pusher Ray (Buddy Duress, star of HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT), 16-year-old delinquent Crystal (newcomer Taliah Webster), and security guard Dash (CAPTAIN PHILLIPS Oscar-nominee Barkhad Abdi), who runs afoul of Connie and Ray when they try to recover a drug stash at a dilapidated amusement park.

GOOD TIME always keeps you on edge, with the constant use of close-ups with handheld cameras, and the grainy, 16mm-looking imagery giving it a genuinely frazzled, scuzzy vibe. An absolutely magnetic, frenetic Pattinson has never been better, seemingly going full Method by the end, where it looks like he's been awake for a week even though the film takes place over a 24-hour period (there's a couple of time flubs that undermine the flow of the story, like one character mentioning it's "almost 9:00 pm," then a bit later, someone else saying it's 7:30 pm). GOOD TIME basks in the seedy underbelly of dangerous areas of working class Queens that you really don't see much of in movies anymore, giving it a distinctly 1970s mood but coming off like Nicolas Winding Refn, Gaspar Noe, and Larry Clark teaming up to make a Michael Mann movie. The Safdies take advantage of actual locations--some shots seem to have been captured on the fly, guerrilla-style--in places that don't appear to have changed much over the last few decades. It's only fitting that this film comes off like a welcome relic from another era, a late-summer shot of adrenaline that unfortunately will be loathed by the few mainstream moviegoers who don't ignore it in the first place. It's a powerfully off-kilter moviegoing experience where nothing plays out as you expect, from the opening credits taking place over 20 minutes into the movie to the way Ray ends up entering the story and briefly hijacking it (Duress gets a long speech and flashback sequence out of nowhere that's the most inspired non-sequitur aside for a character since Victor's trip through Europe in Roger Avary's THE RULES OF ATTRACTION). There isn't much here on a narrative or subtextual level--there's probably some parallels to be drawn from Connie, Nick, and Crystal all having absentee parents and being raised by their grandmothers--and it comes up a bit short on that front, but as a character study in lowlifes and for its colorful visuals and shot compositions and aural razzle-dazzle (goddamn, that score is incredible), GOOD TIME is a gem that sticks with you and is one of the audacious films of the summer.

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