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This is at its heart a story we've seen in movies many, many times, either as a primary or secondary plot: Mid-20s underachiever feels alienated and lacks true purpose in life while caught in a small town.
Jason (played my Mark Webber, a brilliant up-and-coming actor you will hear more and more about) suffers from a disease that makes him lose all his hair. He lives with his vulnerable mother, who keeps holding him back because she is unable to care for herself. He cannot connect with the rest of his awkward family. He works several low-paying jobs, including one at a theatre. The theatre's owner is mentally ill and so, Jason must also take care of him.
Throughout the duration of the film, we see him interact with other individuals, most of which are quirky, most of which seem just as alienated about this "good life" in Nebraska, with unrealized ambitions, broken dreams and broken lives.
This kind of synopsis might appeal to me if I hadn't seen it all before, several times. But where The Good Life redeems itself somewhat is in the execution. Stephen Berra has written organic, believable characters, starting with the protagonist Jason, who has to battle several issues including the legacy his father has left to him. There is a haunting theme throughout the movie that people around Jason have raised the white flag on a better life. Jason's father has done worse, abandoning all hope not only for himself but for his loved ones, inviting them to give up as well.
The other key character here is Frances, a role perfectly suited for the charming and quirky Zooey Deschanel. When Frances meet Jason, she becomes a catalyst for his renewed interest in fighting for his life. A true good life. But unlike the prototypical feel-good Hollywood movie, Frances is not just a device to allow Jason to go on to a better life. She is human and flawed and her sudden interest for our underachiever is complex like all real life relationships are.
And this is where I think this movie shines. The various people Jason meets and interacts with all seem to have their own problems. There is no wise sage around the corner waiting to selflessly give a hand. Selflessness might be the trait that most defines Jason. Underneath, he has all those aspirations, on the surface he neglects his true self while living a life he finds pointless.
And so to me, the movie is mostly successful in making you reexamine the mutuality of relationships, the duties we impose upon ourselves and our true motives. Is being selfless always a good and noble act?
If you enjoy indie dramas and the themes described above, you may enjoy The Good Life as I did.
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