I was pretty damn sure I was a genius when I was a kid. I spent a lot of time alone, partially by choice and partially because my clothes smelled like piss and shit. I’ll take responsibility for some of that, but mostly it was because our washing machine had somehow been plumbed into the waste from the toilet in the apartment above. Anyway, I benefited from the solitude, and from the reassurances of my mother that the only reason other kids didn’t hang out with me was because they were jealous. Jealous of how shitty I smelled.
All of that time alone allowed me to appreciate how brilliant my ideas were without ever having them challenged, or having to explain them. I could write without interruption, without criticism, only stopping to admire my own genius. There was nobody to tell me I made no sense, nobody to tell me someone had already done something similar but better, nobody to tell me I was an idiot, nobody to tell me puns are the lowest form of comedy.
One day the landlord fixed the plumbing, though, and my family stopped smelling like sewage. That pissed off my dad because our rent went up twenty bucks. It also brought an end to my isolation. I had to start sitting in a desk near other students, and participating in group exercises. Shortly after that, teachers and kids crushed the sense of genius I had cultivated. My inside jokes made no sense to anyone else. The ideas I had sketched out for how humans could fly or fart bubble gum were deemed to be “gibberish.” But they totally made sense to me when I was alone. Since then, not a day goes by where I don’t pine for the shit-smelling days of yore, when my ideas were my own and I was a genius.
The movie Good Time sort of feels this way, like the product of minds left alone for too long and too absorbed in their own ideas. Written and directed by bothers Benny and Josh Safdie, the crime caper feels like it could have used a little more exposure to the outside world, to people who could have pointed out the good and bad and refined it into something more cohesive, more like a story than a series of fever dream ideas strung together by a theme that I assume in the creator’s mind and not on the screen.
Robert Pattinson, sans sparkles, and Benny Safdie play Greek brothers Connie and Nikolas at the bottom of the food chain somewhere out among the strip malls and cheap housing of Long Island. Connie is the hustler, one of those guys who thinks life’s been unfair to him and his family so he’s going to grab what he can get. Nikolas is mentally challenged, placed into low-income care facilities to keep him busy.
Connie doesn’t see his brother that way and bristles at the condescending nature Nikolas gets treated. So, he involves him in his scheme to rob a bank. Nikolas gets caught, Connie doesn’t. Connie doesn’t think big, dumb Nikolas should be in Rikers, and the rest of the movie is a shaggy dog story of him trying to get him home.
The money they stole is dyed red, so it can’t be used to bail Nikolas. But after he gets beat up, Connie tries to sneak him out of the hospital. He accidentally grabs the wrong heavily-bandaged prisoner, a real prick who tells his own shaggy dog inside this shaggy dog about drugs, alcohol and a robbed Radio Shack. This leads the movie to lurch into a quest for a misplaced bag of money, a bottle of LSD, the seduction and misuse of a teenage girl, a strung-out girlfriend with her mom’s credit card, and a brawl in a ratty amusement park, including what appears to be an erotic haunted house full of blow-up dolls and moaning.
Kidnapping the wrong wounded prisoner is a prime case of the Safdies not knowing how plausible their ideas would be outside their bedrooms. So is the idea that a Radio Shack still exists, and that it would actually have a lot of cash on hand. The movie coasts on action. The scenes are amorally thrilling, the sort of shit college freshman think is “real” and quote with their friends. But they don’t add to a logical or compelling story.
The "Romance Apocalypse" ride, where a lot of the movie’s action takes place, is a great example of the Safdies’ overactive imagination. It’s a goofy idea, but it’s so off-key in a movie striving for realistic grit that it ripped me right out of the story. Parks catering to kids do not have erotic rides except in Europe. In Germany, all the rollercoasters have dildos welded to the seats because that’s how they roll.
Robert Pattinson is very good, even if he doesn’t sparkle or suck the blood out of anyone. It makes the second time a Twilight alum provided actual value in a movie that happens at a place called Adventureland. I didn’t even know he had talent, so his cold, calculated cornered rat Connie is fun to watch, for a while.
It’s not his fault he stops being fun to watch. It’s the Safdies’ fault. They just run this fucker into the ground, focused more on twists and grime than in compacting their best ideas into a tighter theme. Ultimately, Connie is an asshole, and being around an asshole, even a fun one, is exhausting. It’s like the Harelip showing up at your door with a fifth of Bowman’s Vodka; even when the bottle is gone and the party’s over, she’s still there. The balance shifts and you end up seeing more asshole than entertainment. Literally, in her case.
At first, I assumed Connie cared about his brother’s welfare. That would be an endearing trait in a low-level grifter, enough to make you root for him, or at least his mission. All Connie cares about is getting one over, about getting his. Nikolas is just another object to him, and I lost confidence that Nikolas would be better off if his brother succeeded. That becomes more and more apparent as he screws over and wounds more and more people without remorse. The movie returns from its funhouse trip to a moral point in its waning moment, but by then it’s too late.
Good Time is decent. It’s smart in moments and dumb overall, but only genius in a vacuum. It will probably find a cult following because it’s grimy, amoral, and has a superficial resemblance to Tarantino-esque violence and crime. However, it’s more of a promise of better things to come from two guys who need to come out of their bedrooms. Three Fingers.