A few flashes of talent in The Good Night suggest writer/director Jake Paltrow—brother of Gwyneth and son of late television director Bruce and Blythe Danner—will make a good movie someday. His moderately ambitious debut feature is extremely frustrating, however, in part because its faults can’t be attributed to callowness or inexperience, since Paltrow is 32 and has been toiling in showbiz for quite a while. He probably should decide whether he wants to make British or American movies, and he ought to try rebelling against his heritage by choosing subjects that have nothing to do with gloomy arts-and-entertainment types who doubt their gifts. In other words, he should tear himself away from his sister’s apron strings.
After some success a few years back with a London rock band, an English musician called Gary (Martin Freeman) is living in New York composing TV jingles for his former band mate and caddish best friend Paul (Simon Pegg). He’s unhappy in his relationship with niggling girlfriend Dora—the name and the fact she’s portrayed by Gwyneth Paltrow in mousy Sylvia Plath mode says it all—and anxious about his career, quite rightly fearing he’s mediocre. Gary has a recurring dream starring a luscious fantasy object (Penelope Cruz) and, having decided that “lucid dreaming” is the key to dispelling his personal and professional funk, attends a seminar run by a sad, angry little man (Danny DeVito) who fulminates against the advice of a British writer on dreams (Michael Gambon).
The way the movie hovers between darker, suicidal motifs and romantic-comedy schmaltz is intriguing at first yet ultimately infuriating. Even with Cruz slinking around, Gary’s dream life is just as dull and depressing as his waking life. And the attempt to impose a mock documentary structure fails, though there’s evidence in the interviews with Gary’s former associates that Paltrow is capable of droll humor.
Meanwhile, it’s unclear how seriously we’re supposed to take Gary. His quotidian tribulations produce imitation George Winston-Wyndham Hill piano music during the climax. If not his talent, then at least the composition confirms the banal sincerity of his affection for Dora. It’s a cruel thing to do to your protagonist. Whether intentionally or not, Paltrow hangs Gary out to dry, and the unprepossessing Freeman isn’t exciting or substantial enough to provide a counter-breeze. Because Gary is such a sap, you never care if any relationship in the movie survives. From the audience’s perspective, Gary can’t decide whether he wants to dream/die or live fully in the real world soon enough, and Paltrow’s plot solution is a cop-out.
Although the action takes place in Manhattan, The Good Night was made at London’s storied Ealing Studios; in every sense, the British and American sensibilities Paltrow tries to combine don’t gel. He needs to decide which side of the pond he wants his movies to inhabit, because he’ll sink if he tries to stay in the middle. —
Cast: Martin Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Penelope Cruz, Simon Pegg, Danny DeVito and Michael Gambon
Director/Screenwriter: Jake Paltrow
Producers: Donna Gigliotti and Bill Johnson
Genre: Comedy drama
Rating: R for language and some sexual content
Running time: 93 min.
Release date: October 5, 2007 ltd.