<< Preface >> This is a first viewing for me.
I know absolutely nothing about this film except what I read on the dvd sleeve about three weeks ago when I brought it home. Occasionally, I like to pick up used dvds that I haven’t seen just for the gigs. I’ve become something of a Simon Pegg fan over the years, after all, and this is one Pegg venture I’ve somehow missed.
The intro, shot like a Behind the Music VH-1 style documentary, has me momentarily rolling my eyes. But, before long, I’m somewhat captured by what the characters are saying and I find myself caring why Paul (Pegg) and Jarvis (yes, that’s Jarvis Cocker, playing…well, himself) are speaking so sullenly of this other bandmate they had named Gary (Martin Freeman) — who’s run off to New York to escape his life in the UK.
The following scene in which Gary and Dora (Gwenyth Paltrow) fight over the sink whilst brushing their teeth reminds me of what it’s like to be married – in about fifteen or so seconds. Brilliant. When the couple winds up in bed, take a moment to pause and look closely at what Gary is reading (“Middle East Conflict for Dummys”). And who doesn’t love it when Dora pulls the blankets up when the couple has finally nestled in to bed, turns out her light, and then asks Gary to turn up the heat? All she needs to do is sigh heavily, conveying her malcontent, and you know that Gary is going to be hopping out of bed in 1.1 seconds to turn up the heat…which he does before returning to bed and switching off his light.
“Love you,” she says, in the darkness.
Pegg and Freeman are perfect together, as they stand in the soundbooth discussing Gary’s latest composition for a commercial which is, well, just too good for a commercial, what with the crazy flute solos. “Just make it bad,” Paul pleads. They’re so easy with one another, as if they’ve known each other for years. Great male chemistry.
The dinner scene is so uncomfortable I want to take something to dull the pain – what with Gwenyth looking like a Quaker, Paul getting a promotion to partner and buying a country house in the same breath, and poor Gary looking as though he wanted to shrink away to nothing.
Back at their apartment, Dora and Gary have the discussion. The evil discussion about how Gary is giving up and how Dora thought things would be different. Gary looks forelornly at his gold cassette (it should be a record, but this is far more comical). And even though Dora is blatantly shattered about where their life hasn’t gone, Gary takes his chance to get a few shots in as well, “What about working in an art gallery is so good for the world, Dora?”
“I knew my artistic limitations,” she says, taking out her retainer. “I’m not saying you’re limited, I’m just saying I dealt with it.”
It’s brutal but engaging in the way other couple’s arguments can be when they are cutting a little too close to the bone. It’s great how when the lights go out, they’re soft to one another again, apologetic. It’s this night that Gary first sees Anna (played by Penelope Cruz). The color in the dream sequence is so vibrant against the stark beige, green, and white backgrounds of his waking life. It’s amazing when you dream in color – even more so when you get to kiss Penelope Cruz, I’m betting.
Isn’t it annoying when people come to bed and can immediately fall asleep? But, even though Dora is demanding, unforgiving, and relentlessly self-absorbed, Gary doesn’t fit her against her will. Its as if he’s already half gone, sublimating his own needs to suit those of Dora. It happens in every marriage – the loudest one typically wins. Secretly, we all know that he’s hoping he’ll get to see the mystery woman in his dreams again. Lucky for us, he does.
There is something so beguiling about dreams as they are portrayed in film. They’re magical, beautiful, tactile. Gary dreams of Anna on the beach, where she introduces herself to him but her words are a mish-mash of syllables being pushed through a mouth that never moves. I love that Gary doesn’t have enough of an imagination to give her a voice of her own – later, Dora lends her voice to Anna, which is an odd juxtaposition. And as they kiss, he wakes rudely to his life. His real life. Even I feel a bit sad as he opens his eyes and looks about, realizing he’s lost her again.
He picks himself up out of bed and locks himself into the bathroom where we poses in front of the mirror. Yes, he has the paunch of middle age. Yes, he no longer has any definition in his arms. This is unbarable to. He switches off the light. When Dora wakes up and barges in on Gary during his “me time” in the bathroom, another awkward scene passes between the couple. I’m sorry, but if my significant other called me a “f***** up person,” I think my heart would just about break. It’s bad enough he is apparently married to the queen of the polar ice caps, Gary does everything for this woman. The very least she could do would be to show a little charity and leave him alone when he’s finally doing something for himself.
Eager to learn more about his dreams and what they could possibly mean, he finds a new age bookstore and checks out some books on lucid dreaming. Suddenly, he finds himself in a lucid dreaming class which is being taught by Mel (played by Danny DeVito) in a shared space with a ballet class. It’s one of those scary adult learning annex classes where the teacher forces you to pair off with someone else — you know, you pay to teach yourself kind of deal. I love it though, when Mel and Gary have their pairing session. Mel looks as if he is constantly ready to fall asleep, laying on his side, his eyes half-closed, even though he is going on about his special (hard core) techniques for lucid dreaming.
“It’s a full-on emotional exploration. It’s not dangerous, but sometimes it’s emotionally alarming,” these are the words Mel passes on to Gary as their first classes ends. At home, Gary does what he’s been told to do – he looks at his hands, he flips the light switches on and off, he looks at himself in the mirror. And when he climbs into bed, he rams ear plugs into his ears.
It pays off – in the form of a very amorous Anna. Right about now, I’m wondering if we have a 24-hour new age bookstore nearby. This lucid dreaming business could be very fun. Especially as Gary’s life begins to unravel around him and he retreats more and more into his dreams where his dream girlfriend is becoming everything his real girlfriend isn’t – supportive, kind, and loving.
Things get so awkward between Dora and Gary that Dora leaves for Italy for work, leaving Gary to his own devices. Of course, with Dora out of the picture, for even a little while, Paul entices Gary to a strip club. Only, instead of having his “mic rocked” by a cute stripper, Gary opts instead to soundproof his bedroom, pop a couple of Tylenol PMs (we learn after the fact that sleeping pills are a big no-no when it comes to lucid dreaming) and drift off to visit Anna. But, no matter what, Gary can’t escape his life entirely…Paul has invaded his dreams, and strange Italian men.
“Sometimes I wish you could just hit the sack and never wake up. If your favorite song never ended. Or your best book never closed. If the emotions mustered from these things would just go on and on…who wouldn’t want stay to asleep?”
Danny DeVito is great as the sleep Yoda to whom Gary turns when he becomes increasingly distressed by the presence of Dora and the Italians in his dreams. Until, one fateful day when he sees an ad on a bus that bares a striking resemblence to his dream girlfriend and the home they share. Is he dreaming? Suddenly he is surrounded by bus after bus with Anna’s face plastered all over them. How surreal to come face to face with your dream woman? Your eyes meet. You say hello, and you shake her…elbow.
I love watching Penelope Cruz dance – its ridiculous – and Gary and Melodia (that’s Anna’s name in the real world that Gary inhabits) sort of hit it off. Poor Gary, he’s become too voyeuristic and lazy. He can barely get out of his own way long enough to enjoy simply being awake, being with Melodia. “You’re making me feel like I have to break up with you and I don’t even know you,” she says as she grabs a cab – unable to get away from him fast enough.
“All of these great distractions from unhappiness equal life,” Mel coaches Gary when at last even his dreams become unhinged and his beautiful dream girlfriend turns a gun on him. Decisions have to be made – continue hiding in his dream life, or embrace his waking life.
Prepare yourself for a brutal ending – which, if you’ve made it this far, you owe it to yourself to see it through. I actually twitched, violently, in bed as it played out. I think my heart fluttered for a moment there – and I was momentarily paralyzed.
The final word: The Good Night is an interesting view. It won’t make you laugh out loud, but it will make you wonder about the power of your dreams and the influence they hold over your waking life.