Apologies up front for the generic relationship observation, but maintaining a marriage is hard work—when you’re with someone for a long time, it’s just so easy to slowly drift apart, inching away from one another via the currents of monotony and routine. Strong connections become brittle ones.
Good People, written and directed by Gregory Kohn, is an impeccable crafted, well-performed “festival-ish” drama out of the American Film Institute. It’s broaching potentially melodramatic material, yes, (infidelity, a marriage in crisis, etc.), but it handles these topics with such nuance and honesty, that it never comes off as moralizing or preachy. I don’t mean to use the word “festival” in a pejorative sense, but Good People is the kind of indie relationship drama (long, big budget, beautifully shot), that feels very much like it belongs in a theatrical space. It’s not a showy film, but it’s one so handsomely crafted (check out that production design in the house!), that viewing it in a tiny player window while hunched over your laptop doesn’t quite seem to do it justice.
Infidelity is by no means a unique topic in the world of film, but Good People takes an interesting approach. Rather than watching Emma (Tamara Arias), the bored teacher, “break bad”, eventually building to an affair with her handsome student, the film, instead, drops us into the uncomfortable aftermath. It’s an interesting space to exist in, as the tension comes not from whether Emma will “do it,” or even tell her husband about it, but, rather, why she feels the need to try to save something that is already broken. You can sense her desperation as she tries to cling to the warm and familiar aspects of her current “safe” life path—the cute kids, the nice house, the good husband. And, ultimately, the disappointment she feels in herself that all of it isn’t enough. Neither of the leads are painted as villains, and so, nobody is given an easy way out. After all, Owen, played by Dylan Stretchbery, is a good dude. He’s a bit boring, maybe, but he’s a caring husband, a good father, a homemaker. This isn’t a story about a woman being trapped by the cliché trappings of domesticity—Emma has a life, she’s just not satisfied by it.
This character complexity makes for a compelling, emotionally affecting 20 minute watch. It’s long, yes, but I was never bored, wrapped up in the simple domestic drama of two “good people” whose day to day routine is about to be irrevocably shattered.
While technical acumen isn’t my top curatorial guideline for this site, this is a film that is just polished through and through: professionally shot with great actors, locations, and stellar production design. It’s not showy in a directorial fashion but that actually aids the material: Kohn blocks out scenes, shoots them in a compelling fashion, and, for the most part, gets out of the way of his talented performers. It’s also the rare film where the sex scenes feel necessary—not to titillate but to show a juxtaposition between the two scenarios where Emma is seeking fulfillment, and how she is unsatisfied in both of them for different reasons. Again, this isn’t a story about a woman who finds her groove in the arms of a younger man—it’s more complex than that, and, ultimately I’d argue, more interesting as a result.