Indie films don’t often tackle issues that are big on a geographic scale — big drama sure, but big events are usually outside their budgetary range. An impending apocalypse is a good example of the type of topic beyond an indie’s reach, but there are exceptions including 2012’s It’s a Disaster which successfully married lots of laughs, some relationship drama and the possible end of the world. (Or at least the end of Los Angeles.)
Goodbye World seems to start off on the same strong footing, but it becomes clear pretty quickly that director/co-writer Denis Hennelly isn’t entirely sure what kind of film he’s trying to make. There’s comedy, relationship drama and an impending apocalypse, but there’s also very little of value to hold it all together. There is plenty of bickering though.
James (Adrian Grenier) and Lily (Kerry Bishé) are hosting some friends for the weekend at their rural, self-sustaining, off the grid home in Northern California, and it’s there where they discover the outside world is falling to pieces after a mass text reading “Goodbye World” spreads like wildfire. Riots, bombings, martial law and renegade National Guard members are an increasing threat, so why are these “friends” all fighting over the little things?
Nick (Ben McKenzie) and Becky (Caroline Dhavernas) arrive and quickly sidestep the bad blood between the two men who at one time were partners in a successful company they founded together. Also, Nick and Lily were once engaged. Benji (Marc Webber) is another old friend who spent time in jail for an act of arson fueled by his commitment to a cause. He spends his time lecturing on college campuses now, and it’s there where he acquired his girlfriend Ariel (Remy Nozik). Two uninvited guests, also old friends, arrive as well. Laura (Gaby Hoffman) was a senator’s aid until a sex tape of her and her boss made her untouchable in D.C. Lev (Kid Cudi) meanwhile is on the cusp of putting a bullet into his own brain when the madness begins and decides instead to ride it out with friends.
The reunion offers the opportunity for amends, second chances, and long simmering desires to be expressed, and while it’s well-worn territory there’s always room for another film to take a stab at The Big Chill territory. If this was all Goodbye World aimed for it just might have worked out pretty well. The script (co-written by Sarah Adina Smith) throws some interesting debates and exchanges the group’s way challenging both relationships and ideals, and the cast is mostly up for the back and forth.
Differing political views are touched upon, and James faces some engaging moral dilemmas once the outside world goes bonkers, but it’s all a tease. There’s no meat or depth to the discussions, and instead the only conversational topics given weight are the petty arguments and romantic entanglements that arise between various members of the group. As increasingly empty and frustrating as these exchanges become, even they could have been made to work given more focus and character development.
But you know, there’s that whole apocalypse thing happening.
It’s a Disaster worked, in part, because it kept us and the characters in the dark as to the events outside. They could bicker, joke and fool around because everything beyond their walls was an unknown. The group here doesn’t have that luxury. They know communications are down. They know bombs are being set off in semi trucks. They know martial law is being declared by the president on TV. They know that armed criminals have run the local police out of town and that a pair of aggressive soldiers are wandering the woods nearby.
But with all that, these whiners go on and on about who kissed who, which parent little Hannah loves more, who owns the land and other utterly inconsequential and uninteresting things. It’s indie drama 101, but it fails at even that level because we’ve already been shown something of far greater importance. The humor stops being funny, the drama becomes petty and when the film tries to inject real danger into the proceedings it comes up dry emotionally. Threats are initially powerful, but the absence of reactions by the group effectively neuter our investment in the situation.
Goodbye World sets up an engaging premise but then fails to do much with it. It wants too much and ends up with far too little. It’s a shame as the handful of moments that work hint at the fun comedic drama that could have been if it weren’t for those pesky cyber-terrorists.
The Upside: Some fun moments; some tense moments
The Downside: Characters all written to be supremely annoying and unrealistic; tone shifts are ineffective; danger never feels present beyond the immediate
On the Side: Gaby Hoffman completes her unofficial “Bush” trilogy with this film after Crystal Fairy and HBO’s Girls. (Although here she only talks about it.)