GOOD TIME is a hell of a movie from Josh and Benny Safdie, thirtysomething New York indie directors I never heard of until the flashy A24 trailer acted like they were a household name. Sure enough it’s their fifth feature film (including one documentary) but this one got a little more attention for starring Robert Pattinson, the guy from the Cronenberg movies. He plays Connie Nikas, a New York City dirtbag who storms into a doctor’s office to get his developmentally disabled brother Nick (Benny Safdie) and bring him to help rob a bank. They get away at first but most of the money is ruined by a dye pack and Nick gets arrested. The movie is about Connie running around town all night trying to find $10,000 more dollars to pay Nick’s bail.
It’s a stylish epic of dirt-baggery – Meth Age Michael Mann. An intimate look at a shitty dude doing idiotic things with fevered lighting, gritty real locations, some raw non-professional actors and one of the most legit retro-synth scores I’ve heard, a Tangerine Dream-esque thing by an electronic artist Oneohtrix Point Never, which is a name that I totally understand and can say easily, on account of how young and with it I am. And just so you know I didn’t have to ask anybody what vaporwave was and if I had I totally would’ve understood what Wikipedia meant about it being “built upon the experimental and ironic tendencies of genres such as chillwave and hypnagogic pop.”
I like the addle-brained way the story refuses to stay on a concise trajectory. One thing goes wrong and he’s trying to solve that problem and something goes wrong with that and he keeps getting further and further away from what he was trying to do in the first place. A very simple goal gets derailed by tangent upon tangent upon tangent. I won’t give away the biggest blunder of his “it’s for my brotha!” quest, but there’s a point where a fuck up gets him so disastrously off track it becomes deeply funny. One of those things that doesn’t come off exactly as a joke and yet is a perfect joke – a long buildup to an unexpected thing that causes a deep belly laugh.
There’s a theme of Connie taking advantage of racism, or trying to. Their robbery disguise is a creepily realistic latex mask of a black man under sunglasses and hood. Later, when police find him trespassing in an amusement park at night, he doesn’t have much trouble getting the cops to believe he’s the security guard and that the actual security guard, who is black, is a crazy trespasser.
But I don’t see that as what the movie is about. Much more than that it’s a portrait of a toxic sort of so-called love, families that hurt each other because they don’t know any better. I think Connie genuinely doesn’t understand why professional help is good for Nick. He’s just decided it’s bullshit and because it’s uncomfortable he’s doing his brother a favor by taking him out of it. The fictional character’s point of view is shared by the actual actor Buddy Duress, who plays Ray. On the dvd/blu-ray commentary track he argues that it’s better for Nick to stay with Connie than to go into the program he’s shown in. This seems crazy to me – we’ve just seen Connie manipulate his brother into robbing a bank, where he came close to being shot by a security guard or a cop, and did end up in Riker’s Island, where he was pepper sprayed by guards and brutally beaten by inmates, and then Connie tried to remove him from badly needed medical care to hide in a stranger’s apartment. A good time, all right!
But here’s somebody who thinks he’s better off with all that than with professionals trying to help him through his emotional issues. One of the Safdies responds to that by saying he likes that the movie can be interpreted different ways. Okay, I guess! But I think more importantly having an actor who would interpret it that way in the movie adds an authenticity.
Duress got into acting through his friendship with Arielle Holmes, the star of the Safdies’ 2014 film HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT. It was based on her memoir about heroin addiction, and he played a dealer. He missed the premiere because he was in Rikers on drug related offenses. That he is one of the leads of this movie with the star of the billion dollar TWILIGHT saga who’s about to play Batman and that they fit together perfectly gives you an idea of the Safdies’ approach, I think. Also in the mix are Barkhad Abdi from CAPTAIN PHILLIPS as a security guard, the rapper Necro as a drug dealer, and real cops chasing them through real shoppers in a real mall. I guess they originally had Eric Roberts playing the bail bondsman, but then they decided to use the real bail bondsman whose office they were filming in.
I get why people who need their characters to have a reasonable amount of redeeming qualities would hate GOOD TIME. Connie is such an infuriating character. At one point he has a big breakdown and calls Ray a sponge, tells him he has no value, no purpose. And this is after he’s spent a night going around begging, manipulating and taking advantage of everyone from the staff of a Domino’s Pizza to a troubled girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh, EYES OF A STRANGER)’s rich mom (Rose Gregorio, EYES OF LAURA MARS) to the sixteen year old grand-daughter (Taliah Webster, HAIR WOLF) of… some lady he met once? He knocks on her door late at night hoping she’ll recognize him. Then he ends up staying in her apartment, stealing from her medicine cabinet, using her phone, her car, and her grand-daughter.
And yet I didn’t completely hate him. I felt like even though he’s a fucking idiot, he thinks he’s doing the right thing. And he’s interesting to watch. I like the scene where they’re sitting around watching a completely off-the-rails episode of Cops where a cop tackles an innocent woman and causes her to be stabbed with a knife. It would bring out the morbid curiosity in anybody, but Connie doesn’t want to watch, doesn’t want to see how they justify it.
I was not aware of this insane episode and kinda thought it was staged for the movie, but nope, it’s real. The Safdies said that watching episodes of Cops was a big influence on the movie. They also mention 48 HRS., which they were at one time supposed to do a remake of – man, I wonder what that would’ve been like?
Pattinson has been rightfully praised for this whiny, gross, vanity-free performance. I imagine people might shy away from mentioning Safdie’s performance as Nick, since it’s out of fashion these days to have actors portraying disabilities they don’t have. According to the director/actor, ”We were looking at people who had developmental disabilities to maybe play the part of Nick. But that was kind of problematic for us, because in order to get them to do things and say things in the movie, we’d have to push them, manipulate the situation. It felt wrong, morally, to do that.”
All I know is, I didn’t know who it was and during the long closeup that opens the movie I was convinced he was a real guy. In his eyes is a distance and a frustration. He doesn’t understand what the psychiatrist (Peter Verby) is asking him, and lashes out in anger. You feel for him immediately and want him to be protected – mainly from this brother who’s trying to protect him.
I really liked GOOD TIME and recommend it. But also I want you to know that 31 years before Connie and Ray tried to find the bottle of acid that was stashed in a ride at Adventureland and massively dosed an innocent security guard, possibly damaging him permanently, Chaka Khan filmed the “Love Of a Lifetime” video there.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.