J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Goodbye World: A Talky Apocalypse

Rat race dropouts James and Lily live in the place where hippies and survivalists intersect. Given its strategic hilltop position and the well-stocked freezers full of food and medicine, their Mendocino County home will provide refuge to a number of their long lost college friends. Unfortunately, human nature keeps doing what it does in Denis Henry Hennelly’s Goodbye World (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Nick and Becky were already en route for an awkward weekend visit to his estranged college pals. He was once engaged to Lily and business partners with James, until the hypocritical hippie forced him out over a philosophical disagreement. That is a lot of shared history, but surely they ought to be able to put it aside once the apocalypse hits, right?

Of course, it is hard to get reliable reporting on the freshly minted end of the world. Fortunately, they can rely on the analysis of Laura, another college chum, who was recently an aide to the chairman of the Homeland Security committee, until a leaked sex tape ruined her career. To further increase tensions, their Bill Ayers-lite college professor pal and his latest coed conquest also make their way to their Northern California refuge. To round out the cast of problematic houseguests, their weirdo hacker pal Lev Berkowitz turns up in state of near catatonia, openly inviting viewers to suspect he might have had a role precipitating the cyber attack.

Somehow, millions of smart phones simultaneously received the same cryptic text: “goodbye world.” Then systems started failing left and right, leading to riots in the street. James believes they can sit tight for several years, presuming they can stomach each other, until ominous outsiders start showing up and making demands.

Frustratingly, the sketchy details Hennelly and co-writer Sarah Adina Smith dole out on the early process of Armageddon are far more intriguing than the post-apocalyptic melodrama. For the most part, they are shallow, self-absorbed creeps. Even James & Lily’s daughter is an entitled princess. Still, making the scandal-tarred Laura an American Revolutionary War re-enactor is a nice bit of character detail.

As in the nearly unwatchable First Winter, the end of the world and the widespread casualties that result do not seem to cause anyone much lasting sorrow. Instead, they are preoccupied with their own petty jealousies and resentments. It is one thing to compartmentalize, but that is just cold. Logically, Gaby Hoffman fares the best amid the large vanilla ensembles, since she is blessed with the most distinctively limned character.

To be stuck in the same house as these people would be a fate far worse than any urban anarchy. The special effects team nicely evokes the end times with some subtle but clever bits of business, but Hoffman cannot single-handedly compensate for the massively boring characters her Laura must deal with. Although it gets out of the blocks quickly, Goodbye World soon loses steam. Best saved for fanatical hippie survivalists, it opens this Friday (4/4) in New York at the Village East.

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