By Don Simpson | March 15, 2013

Leigh (Adriene Mishler) and Winston (Jonny Mars) are hosting a dinner party for several of their closest friends. They are not only celebrating Leigh’s birthday, but there is also an important announcement to be made. Once that announcement is revealed, the party is understandably devastated. It is a solid body blow that knocks the wind out of everyone; then, the real kicker, a second reveal, and this one leaves the ensemble cast’s heads-a-spinning. It is not long, though, before the party starts jumping again. Leigh just wants everyone to have a good night, and her friends (for the most part) abide by her wishes.

Writer-director Sean H.A. Gallagher’s debut feature observes a series of morally questionable actions, often performed in order to maintain control of one’s own space. When Jake (Alex Karpovsky) is unwillingly joined by a couple of passengers while running an errand, he seeks to control the environment (specifically the topics of conversation) within the confines of his SUV. Jake does this entirely out of frustration, as he tries to temporarily escape the heightened emotions of the party, but his cohorts just want to talk about the big news. As the party’s hosts, Leigh and Winston establish the setting and mood for the gathering, manipulating it as they see fit; yet they are not evil puppeteers, their intentions seem genuinely good. The more we learn about Leigh and Winston’s situation, the more empathetic they become. This is why Gallagher sprinkles the narrative with a series of flashbacks, to provide us with sufficient backstory to feed our ever-growing sympathy for Leigh and Winston.

Part of the reason that Leigh and Winston seek to control their space is because that very space has been haunting them in the form of an unconquerable pile of debt. In this context, Good Night works as a subtle economic commentary on the recent real estate crash. (The film begins with a montage of suburban homes with “For Sale” and “Foreclosure” signs in the front lawns.) Leigh and Winston bought a home that was barely within their means, then they began to plummet rapidly towards foreclosure because of one life-altering event that was entirely out of their control. The s**t sandwich of life that Leigh and Winston were served was unavoidable, but the outcome would have been much different if a certain government program was in place to protect them. It is the lack of this said government program in the United States that Gallagher really rails against. This is not to say that Good Night is a political film; it is a dinner party film with a lot of heart that also happens to have a strong message in its soul.

The true strength of Good Night is the top notch ensemble cast. Throw Alex Karpovsky, Todd Berger, Jason Newman and Chris Doubek into a room together and some sort of cinematic magic is going to happen; but there is also no doubt that it is the emotionally dynamic duo of Adriene Mishler and Jonny Mars who turn Good Night into something that is truly special. I might even say that Mishler and Mars clock in two of the greatest dramatic performances in the history of Austin filmmaking.

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