SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2024 REVIEW! Good One is writer-director India Donaldson’s feature-length debut. The title references how everything can just be brushed off as a joke, even if it shouldn’t be. The 90-minute drama presents a seemingly simple story. Sam (Lily Collias), a 17-year-old, goes on a days-long excursion into the Catskills. She undertakes this trip with her father, Chris (James Le Gros), and his best friend, Matt (Danny McCarthy). And that’s it — three people trek through the mountains.
However, the journey isn’t as fun as roughing for a few days sounds. Sam’s a smart girl, not that Chris would know, as if it doesn’t involve the camping trip directly, he barely says anything to her. Matt, on the other hand, is just wallowing in self-pity as his family life falls apart. Chris and Matt make curt jokes toward one another, leading to a clash of egos. However, Matt and Sam get on well enough. Will her father ever try to get to who Sam truly is? Will Chris and Matt passive-aggressively be at each other’s throats all trip?
Good One is very natural. The dialogue ebbs and flows in ways that feel like authentic conversation as opposed to a scripted back-and-forth. The plot unfolds believably, forgoing contrived drama for true emotional stakes. Without spoiling things, an off-color remark sets off a chain reaction in Sam that the characterization entirely earns.
“…three people trek through the mountains.”
McCarthy makes Matt’s brusque nature relatable. His rendition of a scary campfire story is told brilliantly. As the well-meaning but unobservant dad, Le Gros is perfectly cast. His love for his on-screen daughter is never questioned, while the character’s aloofness comes across as just who he is.
But from the first frame to the last, Good One is owned by Collias. She’s snarky, fun, and perfectly cast. The actor goes from happy-go-lucky to annoyed or frustrated without missing a beat. In her first lead role, Collias proves she has what it takes to become an A-list star and win all the awards. This drama would not work half as well without her as Sam.
However, the film does have an odd subplot. Some young men are camping near where the leading trio is staying. Sam seems nervous, but aside from some small talk and a generous offer of a sleeping bag, very little comes of this. It’s a diversion that doesn’t add much. But given the strength of every other scene and the cast, this is a minor hiccup.
Good One is a carefully crafted character study. It’s brought to life by perfectly calibrated performances, led by the young but brilliant Lily Collias. This is one hike everyone should experience.
Good One screened at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival.
"…Collias proves she has what it takes to become an A-list star..."