Whiny couples bicker and fight as the world crumbles in 'Goodbye World'
Goodbye World Samuel Goldwyn Films
Director: Denis Henry Hennelly
Screenplay: Denis Henry Hennelly and Sarah Adina Smith
Starring: Kerry Bishé, Caroline Dhavernas, Adrian Grenier, Gaby Hoffmann, Ben McKenzie, Scott Mescudi, Remy Nozik and Mark Webber
Rated R / 1 hour, 41 minutes
Now playing in limited release and VOD
(out of four)
The last thing we need in a movie about a technological apocalypse is a bunch of marital bickering and soapy personal history, but that's exactly the version Denis Henry Hennelly gives us with Goodbye World, a movie about the end of civilization that has almost nothing to say about the end of civilization. Except maybe that, when the time comes, we should all be nice to each other and help other people out. Lesson learned.
But mostly, we should try to make sure we're satisfied with the significant other we've chosen. That is the most important thing.
The film plays out almost like one of those Woody Allen movies where all the characters are in relationships with the exact wrong person. Only in this case, there's no wit or character development. Just a lot of telegraphed physical gestures (telling glances across a dinner table, hugs lingering a little too long, bodies briefly brushing past each other) and charmless arguments about who likes who and why.
The other obvious comparison is last year's It's a Disaster, a witty comedy about a couples' brunch that takes place just as a biochemical attack has brought about the end of days. Like that (much better) movie, Goodbye World centers around four boys and four girls hanging out in a house together and trying to reconcile the apparent downfall of civilization. This one tries to take a much more serious approach to the same basic premise, but it never makes the case that it actually deserves to be taken seriously. The very fact that so much of it revolves around the soapy relationship drama is telling - it tells us Hennelly and co-writer Sarah Adina Smith are killing time. It's hard to imagine why the most pressing concerns in a survival movie are about who's going to wind up (or not wind up) with whom.
In its few good moments, the film uses those interactions to question the images the characters have of themselves, and of one another. Six of the eight were once part of some sort of neo-political group who fancied themselves revolutionaries back in college. Benji (Mark Webber) still thinks of himself that way and has five years in prison (for burning down an abandoned factory) to show for it. These days, he goes around the country giving lectures at colleges, taking full advantage of the impressionable coeds that come with the job - namely his current lady friend Ariel (Remy Nozik).
Benji is living in the guest house at the far edge of the property owned by James (Adrian Grenier) and Lily (Kerry Bishé), two self-sufficient, survivalist hippies with diametrically opposed personalities. Along for the weekend is Nick (Ben McKenzie) - Lily's ex-boyfriend and James' ex-partner - who's brought along his new(ish) wife Becky (Caroline Dhavernas), who's much more conservative than the others. Finally, there's Laura (Gaby Hoffmann) - Becky's former college roommate, currently a professional activist and one-time senator's aide rendered infamous for a sex-tape scandal - and Lev (Scott Mescudi), a suicidal computer genius with the kind of legal history that gets him placed on cyber-terrorist watch lists.
Through a miraculous stroke of dumb luck, they've all found themselves in the same place on the day the world ends.
Because the movie is taking an insulated angle on its apocalyptic scenario (although budget reasons likely played a role as well), we catch only glimpses of what actually happened. We know it began with a mass text message - a simple note: "Goodbye World" - and that eventually the power grid went down, airports closed, cell phone service died and cities started going up in flames. That's all we need to know. As far as I remember, only two characters register much of a reaction at all - Becky, who's fearful and wants desperately to reach her mother in Miami; and James, who's calm and pragmatic, and immediately gets set making sure his storeroom is well-stocked with non-perishables and medicine.
The town is quickly overrun with scoundrels. The general store has been taken over by big bearded men with guns, and National Guardsmen are going from property to property looking for a place to set up camp. This leads to the closest Goodbye World comes to a plot, which in turn is used to get to the film's trite and obvious conclusions. (Also: The explanation of how this technological devolution began is a howler.)
A movie with this little to say requires its cast to do most of the heavy lifting, and for the most part the actors are up to the task, doing all they can with limited material. I'm pleased to say even Adrian Grenier - who I always thought was pretty awful on Entourage - does a nice job as James, the principled but humorless blowhard of the group. Perhaps more anonymous, everyday characters are more his speed - just as long as he's not required to play anyone with any charisma.
Each performance deserves better than this, but the movie can't support them. With Goodbye World, Hennelly is piggybacking a trend toward small-scale, postapocalyptic dramas, of which there have been several over the last few years. Being trendy is fine, but with so many similarly themed offerings to choose from, it just makes it all the more easy to ignore this one.