Monday, May 11, 2015

"Goodbye World" (2013)

Starring Adrian Grenier, Ben McKenzie and Gaby Hoffman
Written by Dennis Hennelly and Sarah Adina Smith
Directed by Dennis Hennelly
Rated R — Language, drug use, violence
Running Time: 100 Minutes

When millions of people begin receiving a mysterious text message that only reads, "Goodbye World," society begins a quick collapse into chaos. Soon, the power is out everywhere and people are rioting.

Living in blissful ignorance are James (Adrian Grenier) and his wife Lily (Kerry Bishe) on their isolated, solar-powered ranch in California. They're currently letting their friend Benji (Mark Webber) live in their guest house, while college buddies Nick (Ben McKenzie) and his wife Becky (Caroline Dhavernas) are visiting for the weekend to patch up some bad blood between Nick and James.

When the world starts to go to shit, Benji comes home with Ariel (Remy Nozik), a girl he hooked up with the night before. Laura (Gaby Hoffman) arrives soon after with Lev (Scott 'Kid Cudi' Mescudi) in tow. Together the group slowly figures out that the outside world is gone. Thankfully, James and Lily's ranch is pretty self-sufficient, with plenty of food and medicine stocked up, solar power and fresh water.

But survival isn't really their problem: each person has come to the house with baggage. Benji is fairly fresh out of a stint in prison for arson; James and Nick blame each other for a business venture gone bad; Nick is still in love with Lily, who it turns out is his ex; Becky used to be Laura's roommate, and everyone hated her; Laura is still reeling from the public release of a sex tape of her and a senator she was working for; and Lev is, frankly, suicidal.

Relationships among friends and lovers will collapse just as surely as society will.

So often you come across a movie that sounds more interesting than it is, one with a premise or conceit that just doesn't play out in execution the way you hope. "Goodbye World" is another such film. Though performed by a group of actors who feel comfortable with each other and their roles, the script only rarely lives up to its potential, more often than not falling into tired cliche in both dialogue and plot.

As far as "end of the world" scenarios go, "Goodbye World" is left vague enough that you don't really have to question or think about it much... but it's also apparent that the filmmakers didn't, either. A revelation late in the game that both Lev and Lily may have been involved in jumpstarting the apocalypse is eye-rolling stuff, an unnecessary and overblown twist in a movie that was content for 99% of its running time to remain small and intimate. The filmmakers also appear to have noticed this late in the game, as well, and it's never brought up again after the first time it's mentioned.

The characters themselves are decently drawn, each one with distinct personality that remains consistent throughout the picture, which is actually a pretty admirable accomplishment. The actors imbue each one with life well enough, and it does feel like these people have been friends for quite some time. This is especially apparent during the many scenes we see them lounging about the house attempting to entertain each other after TV and the Internet are no longer in the picture. A fun scene involving a talent show for James and Lily's young daughter Hannah is actually really interesting in how it becomes a microcosm for the film as a whole: it collapses at the end as the underlying tensions between the characters simmer to the top.

The focus of the movie is, to its detriment, almost entirely on these characters and their crumbling relationships. Which would be fine if it all didn't feel so tired and obvious. Probably the most interesting of the bunch is Gaby, who at the outset of the film is attempting to find a job, any job, where her infamous sex tape isn't going to be a liability for her employer. The others all mostly feel like standard TV drama fare, even if I like all the actors portraying them.

But ultimately, although parts of the movie prove interesting, it never really gels. There's rarely any sense of urgency. One might be forgiven for forgetting that there's actually an apocalypse going on as much of the time is spent with sunshine and people getting high and drinking and lounging in the hot tub discussing whether women should wax their pubic hair (yep, actually a scene that happens). There are brief looks at the world outside through a neighboring farm that after being essentially taken over by two (and only two) alleged National Guardsmen tries to steal and extort James' hoarded supplies of food and medicine. One of them even tries to rape Gaby just so you know that they're evil.

Writers Hennelly and Smith obviously care more about making a relationship drama at the end of the world, but didn't care enough about the end of the world part. It feels tacked on, like they already had a movie about a bunch of friends spending time together in a cabin and decided to add the apocalypse stuff later.

Although it's well under two hours, "Goodbye World" feels longer. While technically a colorful, good-looking film, its low budget subtly creeps through a lack of scale. Footage of people rioting in the streets of major cities is just obviously culled from old news footage. A disturbing presidential broadcast is an Obama impersonator speaking over distorted press conference footage. And, again, there are only two evil guardsmen.

"Goodbye World" is an interesting idea, and it has good performances and a few interesting scenes, but for the most part is skippable.