"Goodbye Lover" is a quite good dark comedy about -- as Jake Dunmore says quoting his brother Ben -- "Image is everything." Everything in this movie is about image, and yet nothing is at it appears. And in this respect the very context of the movie sustains the content exceedingly well: it's a beautifully shot movie -- too pretty, in fact. So pretty it's easy to miss the fetidness just beneath the surface.
Almost every shot is too shiny, too glossy, too seamless, too meticulously composed. Many scenes are suffused with those ubiquitous cinematic blues and oranges contemporary DPs and directors like so much, but raised to such a degree that it almost enters the realm of the fanciful. Many other scenes are done in hi-tech blacks, whites, and grays. Everything is window dressing -- reality is nothing more than appearance, beautifully symbolized by mirrors everywhere. Lots of mirrors, shiny surfaces, glass & windows, all reflecting everyone to everyone else, a world of appearances without substance, without soul. And when people aren't being reflected in mirrors they're being framed behind glass, a diorama for display. The world is just one big department store window.
Yet just as a structurally crumbling, termite-ridden house can be painted to look pristine and beautiful, so does this shiny veneer hide the most vicious, rapacious, cynical behavior. Indeed, the world in which this takes place may look beautiful, but it is very very empty and ugly. And as such this is a kind of morality tale that shows the dangers to a society that lives strictly for appearance.
There are few movies I can think of which so excellently explore this tense boundary between the shiny packaging, and the rancid stuff it hides. As Ben Dunmore says, "People worry that it's a dangerous and sh*tty world. And it is our job to make it look safe and clean." Thus our hero works at a PR firm, packaging a morally bankrupt politician as a wholesome, devout family man; the president of the PR firm pretends to be a holy man -- a rather inherent contradiction; our two principals work in a church that obviously serves Mammon over anything else: religion is just another accoutrement, something to accessorize the soul; and then there's the wedding chapel in Las Vegas, where an unctuous smile sells ersatz sincerity. [Sorry.] Etc. (In fact, it's surprising how many such examples of this there are in the movie -- the writers were very inventive and consistent in coming up with such a profusion of image vs substance motifs.)
The only person in this world of appearances who doesn't belong, Detective Rollins, is a "F*cking Mook" -- as his partner, Sergeant Rita Pompano (Ellen Degeneres), calls him. For him, appearance *is* reality. His sincerity is regarded with mocking disbelief by everybody: he obviously doesn't understand the rules of the game that everyone else is playing. Even we, the audience, take sides against him -- that's how subtly subversive and well presented -- even seductive -- this world is.
And speaking of Ellen Degeneres, she is great in this movie. Others complain that she isn't funny or witty, merely insulting. But in one of those delightful twists where the line between fiction and reality dissolves, this is her payback for the flack she took from the forces of christian oppression after she came out of the closet. Ellen obviously relishes this role -- she mercilessly mocks her Mormon partner, gets to be a "guy" (and, for an attractive woman, she is laudably unattractive in this role), and, at the end of the movie, looks ridiculous when she dresses in "drag".
This may also be Don Johnson's best movie. For once he gets to play the kind of character he seems uniquely equipped to play: a high-end used car salesman, all style, all flash, sexy in his way, but empty and sleazy. It's very fitting that when he says he's "trying to get something real in his life", he unknowingly gets quite the opposite. And, since he wants to leave the game, he no longer belongs in this world -- and is appropriately removed from the game.
Sometimes the symbolism is a bit heavy-handed ("Go For It" billboard), as is the writing ("You need to go down on your knees for her." "Well, someone obviously did."). But it's all in good spirits, and I'm willing to accept its blemishes (as it were) 'cause it succeeds admirably in most other respects. And the acting in general is uniformly solid -- in fact, it's very well cast, even the curiously unfatale femme fatale Patricia Arquette.
The movie ends on a wonderfully humorous note to the tune of "Climb Every Mountain" as image thoroughly triumphs over substance, much as it does in real life -- which may be the reason this movie doesn't sit well with many people.
The filmmakers obviously had fun making this movie, and it shows. All in all, it's a very well-made, fun movie -- if you scratch its surface. [8/10]
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