Daniel Levy’s Feature Filmmaking Debut Is Smart – Deadline


Considering his hilarious multiple Emmy-winning work on Schitt’s Creek, this markedly different feature filmmaking debut as writer-director-producer and star from Daniel Levy is a revelation — and a welcome one. The appropriately titled Good Grief explores exactly what that name implies, as Levy uses his own experience as an impetus to paint a larger picture of love, loss and grief in all its complexity. But at its heart, this impressive if sometimes tonally dicey story is also about the complications — and importance — of friendship in a scenario that revolves around a trio of BFFs who take a life-changing trip to Paris and get more than they each bargained for.

The opening sets the stage, as we meet Marc (Levy) at a holiday party in the spacious and impressive London apartment (in the Notting Hill section, as a bit of an homage to writer Richard Curtis, who is one of Levy’s cinematic inspirations), where his flamboyant and successful filmmaker husband Oliver (Luke Evans) is sucking up all the energy.

Marc is an artist (his poignant paintings that play a part in the film’s finale are by Kris Knight) but clearly lives in the shadow of his more famous partner. But it seems to be a life they both love.

In the crowd are Marc’s good friends, the vivacious and lively Sophie (Ruth Negga) and Thomas (Himesh Patel), the latter once a romantic interest for Marc before their breakup and his subsequent relationship and marriage to Oliver. However, tragedy rears its head, as Oliver heads out from the party to grab a cab to the airport and dies in a head-on collision before leaving the street.

The grieving process begins but doesn’t end with the emotional funeral for Oliver, and it all comes to a crescendo a year later and in another holiday season, where friends Sophie and Thomas convince Marc it is time to move on, and one way to do it is to finally read the card Oliver had left him for him as he took off that fateful evening.

In it is far more than he ever bargained for, and to say it provides complications is an understatement. Those only pile up when Marc and Oliver’s lawyer Imelda (Celia Imrie – wonderful) reveals Oliver had a lavish Paris apartment, the existence of which he never shared with his husband. “I guess now is not the time to talk about your will,” she deadpans.

Joined by his two best friends for what they think will be finally a snapping-back-to-life for Marc, the trio heads off for a fun few days to Paris, but unbeknownst to them, Marc is privately on a mission to discover the answer to all the secrets left behind by Oliver, with whom he apparently had an open marriage, a plot point tossed in and given oddly short shrift in Levy’s script.

Although this offers plenty of melodramatic opportunities for Levy, he fortunately resists laying on the soapy elements. It really is just as much a chance to focus on three individuals whose own problems hit the boiling point in different ways that not only reveal truths for each, but also their longtime connection to each other. The balancing act in a movie that is largely about the process and the price of grief is formidable for the debuting filmmaker, who is better known for his comedic chops. But it is just promising enough to make us look forward to where he goes next. The guy is a quadruple threat and an assured talent.

Levy’s ability for directing actors and giving them juicy roles is evident immediately with choice turns by both Negga, sensational as the freewheeling and fun Sophie, and Patel, who is completely believable as he winds himself up in a frenzy at the individual and unexpected actions of his buddies.

It is also a credit to Levy, who lets both of these exceptional actors steal all the scenes they are in. Even though Levy’s Marc is at the center of this, he is somewhat weighed down, having to first play so much grief, and then the complex reaction to the dark situation Oliver has handed him in death.

There are others in the mix as well including Arnaud Valois as Theo, a brief attraction for Marc in Paris that turns into an opportunity to escape the hold Oliver still has on him, and Medhi Baki as Luca, a mystery man with a key to answering some of the unanswered questions.

Emma Corrin also turns up briefly as a performance artist, as does Kaitlyn Dever. But neither has much to do. Evans hits all the right notes as Oliver, even if his presence in the story is felt more offscreen after his character’s early demise.

Paris has never looked more inviting than it does here with Ole Bratt Bireland’s sumptuous cinematography. The handsome production design of both the London and Paris apartments is perfectly handled by Alice Normington, as are the flashy fashions of costume designer Julian Day. A big shoutout to Rob Simonsen’s music score, and the soundtrack delivered by music supervisor Season Kent, with some terrific songs from the likes Bonnie Raitt, Elton John and especially Neil Young’s haunting evergreen “Only Love Can Break Your Heart.”

Producers are Levy, Megan Zehmer, Debra Hayward and Kate Fenske. Executive producers are Stacey Snider and Caroline Levy.

Title: Good Grief
Distributor: Netflix
Release Date: December 29, 2023 in select theatres; January 5 streaming
Director-screenwriter: Daniel Levy
Cast: Daniel Levy, Ruth Negga, Himesh Patel, Luke Evans, Celia Imrie, Arnaud Valois, Emma Corrin, Kaitlyn Dever, David Bradley, Medhi Baki
Rating: R
Running time: 1 hr 40 min