Credit where credit is due to Dan Levy, Good Grief is more than just an attempt to recapture the magic of Schitt’s Creek, the hugely popular Canadian television show that launched him to prominence in 2015. Naturally, as his directorial debut and first major creative project after that show came to an end in 2020, Good Grief certainly comes saddled with a set of expectations. So it’s impressive that Levy seems more interested in doing his own thing, as this is a much heavier attempt at introspection than was found in the quirky but often heartfelt comedy of Schitt’s Creek.
Levy stars as Marc, an artist who has spent much of his life illustrating his husband Oliver’s wildly popular, Harry Potter-esque book series. But when Oliver (Luke Evans) is killed in a car accident, Marc is sent into a tailspin of grief, and a series of revelations lead him to question their entire relationship, along with his future apart from the man he loved.
If the goal of Good Grief was to be the kind of forgettable rom-com you cuddle up and watch by a crackling fire, then it’s halfway there. It’s a film that exudes coziness, all cashmere overcoats, Christmas carols, and picturesque Paris locales, but its attempts to wrestle with heavy topics — infidelity, polyamory, asserting yourself as an individual in a relationship — often fall flat. Marc’s conflicts with his supportive friends, for example, are painfully hollow, coming off like the kind of contrived drama you might find in a reality TV subplot. There’s certainly some interesting emotional material to mine from the film’s central conflict, but Levy seems so determined to tie it all up in such neat bows that none of it ever rings particularly true. It’s also clear that he’s more comfortable with the comedy — an early bit in which the lead actress of the movie series based on Oliver’s books eulogizes her career instead of the late author at his own funeral stands out — but unlike in Schitt’s Creek, he’s never able to balance it with pathos, largely due to the fact that the characters aren’t particularly interesting and the conflict even less so.
The film’s best moment is delivered by none other than David Bradley (Walder Frey himself, a long way from the Game of Thrones’ red wedding) as Oliver’s grieving father. Levy’s writing shows such humanity in this moment, and Bradley’s performance is so moving, that it’s a shame the rest of the film is never quite able to capture that energy or emotional depth. Levy certainly has talent and a voice, but Good Grief feels like a distinctly transitional waypoint in his career, a stepping stone perhaps to the next big thing. The film may ultimately find itself up that proverbial creek, but at least Levy isn’t entirely without a paddle.
DIRECTOR: Dan Levy; CAST: Dan Levy, Ruth Negga, Luke Evans, Hamish Patel; DISTRIBUTOR: Netflix; STREAMING: January 5; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 40 min.