Nature is an escape, a chance to connect with something that doesn’t involve a cell tower or wifi signal. Hiking and camping typically appeal to those who are athletic and not especially high-strung, open to long treks with considerable supplies on their backs and a less-than-glamorous night under the stars in a tent. But being away from the rest of the world doesn’t mean it no longer exists, and people can still be the same even if they’re not in their normal environment. Good One follows one trip into the woods that isn’t especially full of drama but still feels somewhat uncomfortable for its protagonist.
Sam (Lily Collias) drives with her father Chris (James Le Gros) to pick up his friend Matt (Danny McCarthy) to head to the Catskills. Matt’s son is supposed to join them but angrily expresses no interest, resulting in Matt coming alone and setting a different tone for the trip before it even begins. As they first share one hotel room, leaving no bed for Sam, they then get into nature, where Sam is forced to endure numerous nostalgic and argumentative conversations between the two longtime friends who have substantially different interests from her and, it turns out, from each other.
With basically no context for who these three people are outside of this getaway, entering the woods really does feel like a fresh start. Before they depart from their parked car and the last trace of industrial civilization they’ll see for a few days, Chris reveals himself to be extremely logic-driven and relatively humorless as he inspects Matt’s bag to tell him just how much he shouldn’t bring with him, including a large paperback book, a flask, and a second pair of jeans. Chris does make multiple jabs at Matt’s physical capabilities, and Matt doesn’t do himself any favors by, among other things, forgetting his sleeping bag in the car.
Collias, who is surely mistaken by some for the Emily in Paris actress with just one different letter in her last name, has just one previous feature credit, Palm Trees and Power Lines. Yet she seems remarkably comfortable on screen, playing the type of teenager who is quite attached to her phone but also capable of leaving it behind for a few days, paying some level of respect to her authority figures. While her father clearly thinks she’s intelligent, he’s at the same time far too set on sticking to the plan and allowing no room for deviation or emotion. When he asks Sam about her plans for college, she’s almost startled since he so rarely steps out of his routine long enough to ask about anyone else.
Though the trio does encounter a few other humans along the way, this is largely a three-person effort. Le Gros and McCarthy do deserve credit for bottling up – and fleshing out – their middle-aged male characters, but writer-director India Donaldson has also conceived a strong screenplay and tightly-shot film that manages to sustain audience interest for ninety minutes. It doesn’t drag at any point, and the only disappointment that may exist is that certain things remain unresolved when it ends. But that’s also true to the dynamic these three people have, representative of many relationships between young adults and members of their parents’ generation. It’s not an entirely pleasant experience, but one that manages to spend sufficient time with its characters to comprehend how they interact with each other and how their own worldviews influence their thoughts and actions.
Good One makes its world premiere in the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival.