Anything But A

Good Time (2015)


“I am harrowed, hallowed. I am stone, stone.
I have not trembled. Love nails me to the world.”

—“Jubilee,” Traci Brimhall

Good Time
exhausted me, ruined me. With 20 minutes left in the film, I began to grow unimaginably restless. It has to end, I thought. Please let it end. I picked at the side of my face until it bled. As the credits rolled over its final scene, I rocketed up to my feet. I needed to get a breath of fresh air. I walked home the two miles it took from the theater to my apartment, wringing my hands, taking deep breaths. Calming myself.

“How was Good Time?” a text read.

Well, the short answer is: a bad time.

The long answer is (it’s a magazine, after all): a bad time that I can’t stop thinking about, an achingly regretful social interaction that tiptoes back into my subconscious before I fall asleep.

I can bemoan my oozing face, my heightened anxiety, my physical discomfort as I watched Good Time play out, but none of these symptoms come anywhere close to the plagues—the monsters, the odyssey, The Odyssey, maybe—Connie Nikas (Robert Pattinson, transcendent) meets in Good Time. The plan is simple, stupid. Connie has broken his developmentally disabled brother, Nick (Benny Safdie), out of a therapy session to rob a bank. What else are you gonna do? Connie is manipulative: “The therapist doesn’t understand you, Nick, but I do.” He’s a snake. He layers his brother in a rubber mask, two pairs of pants, a baggy sweatshirt, and the two wordlessly, nonviolently, rob a local bank for something like $60,000. The robbery goes fine but the escape goes wrong. Something always gets jumbled up when men plan things, you know how it is.

An explosion of ink, planted in the bag of money, explodes over them. Connie and Nick are drenched in red. It burns, it spreads. It’s too bright to look like blood, but it hurts just the same. It addles Nick—it’d addle anyone, to be fair—and disorients him. And, try as he might to play criminal-cum-caretaker, Connie can’t keep up with the turn of events. In a botched getaway, Nick hurdles through a plate glass door. The cops catch him. Connie keeps running; the screen freezes and GOOD TIME appears in all caps. A wry touch; the good time wasn’t the robbery, it’s the mania that follows, the descent.

Because that’s what this is, it’s a journey into hell. It’s greed and lust and gluttony. To summarize the plot would do a disservice to those who haven’t seen it, but what can be said is this: Connie launches himself into the narrative of others—a sometimes girlfriend, Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh), whose wealthy mother doesn’t want her close to him; Crystal (Taliah Webster), a trusting teenage girl whose grandmother helps Connie off the street; Ray (Buddy fucking Duress!), a character so despicable I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. No doubt Connie is taking advantage of all of them. He’s white, he’s handsome (I mean, he’s still Robert Pattinson down there somewhere), he lies like a virtuoso. He can make his way into any apartment, over any barbed wire fence. And yet, for someone who can talk his way into $10,000, this night is still a challenge. Under the direction of the Safdie brothers, Josh and the aforementioned Benny, along with co-writer Ronald Bronstein,the Queens underworld is a haunting neon nightmare. Danger is literally, truly, around every corner, even if it seems as harmless as an amusement park.

Do you ever have nightmares where you’re being chased? I get these all the time. More than flying or teeth falling out or showing up to calculus without the homework done, I dream about running from something monstrous and awful. I can’t stop because I know that’s when they get me. Good Time is like those nightmares. It’s punched in, close, uneasy, on Connie’s face throughout. The music is blaring. The colors are disorienting and the music is racing. It’s a fun house maze, a haunted house, a game of whack-a-mole where they’re gonna beat one of you down with a hammer so don’t let it be you. I always think I’m running from something, but Good Time suggests maybe it’s the opposite, maybe I’m running towards morning.

Good Time spirals relentlessly. It never gets better; it’s worth knowing that going in. Everything goes from bad to worse. It’s an exercise in cause and effect: how can something go the most wrong it’s ever gone? And yet: it continues. And you don’t want it to keep getting worse (unless you’re a psychopath). It moves the way it does because Connie is determined to get his brother. His love for his brother does not propel him; it drags him. It’s a block of concrete tied to his leg. And this ties you—me, us—to him as well. It’s not safe to like Connie—the movie would actively discourage you against it, I think! But he is the hero whether you accept it or not, because he’s acting out of love (mostly; it’s a cocktail mixed with obligation and pride). But we like love—it works, it’s a motivation we understand, relate to, sympathize with. Why doesn’t he stop? I thought to myself, two, three, five times throughout watching it. Go home, pack it in. You can’t, why bother? Love, you dummy. It’s a death sentence.

And that’s why (I think, I know) Good Time has stayed with me the way it has in the two weeks since I saw it. The moment I walked out of the theater, I didn’t want to touch it or think about it. The love, the obligation, it drove me insane. Made my skin crawl. Good Time is an itch, a nagging. I want to let it go, but I, too, have been prone to spiral. Maybe we get high on the chase, Connie and I. We want to push it further to see how far it can go. But we also just want to get home at the end of it. We blink back tears of exhaustion. We sigh; our skin gets splotchy, greasy, sweaty. Connie is not, titled be damned, having a good time, nor am I. But we’re along for the the ride anyway.

What are the lengths you’d go to for a loved one? You’ll have to get back to me.