India Donaldson’s thoughtful coming-of-age drama “Good One” premiered to rave reviews at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, marking an assured directorial debut. The film follows 17-year-old Sam (Lily Collias) as she joins her father Chris (James Le Gros) and his best friend Matt (Danny McCarthy) on a weekend camping trip in the Catskills before leaving for college. What begins as a way to bond one last time slowly unravels, exposing generational divides and long-simmering tensions.
With its lush cinematography and vibrant natural settings, “Good One” uses its pristine wilderness backdrop as a mirror for its characters’ inner lives. Sam serves as the film’s anchor, her quiet grace belying a young woman on the cusp of an independence she’s not yet ready to embrace. Collias’ thoughtful lead performance simmers with an inner strength the teen herself hasn’t realized she possesses. As the men’s self-absorption increasingly encroaches on Sam’s own journey, the audience roots for the bright future ahead for this promising protagonist.
Donaldson’s astute direction explores universal themes of growing up and moving on through Sam’s eyes. Her love for her father contends with a growing awareness that she must forge her own path. Long days in the woods with Chris and Matt shed light on the fallibility of the adults she once viewed as infallible. Yet the film resists easy categorization; its characters are nuanced, their choices understandable even in moments of frustration. In the end, “Good One” heralds the arrival of a vibrant new directorial talent in Donaldson, and an exciting breakout star in Collias. Their keen artistic insights shape a film as lovely as it is emotionally resonant.
Standout Performances Anchor the Drama
The talented cast of “Good One” provides nuanced performances that give life to the film’s resonant coming-of-age story. In her breakout role as Sam, newcomer Lily Collias displays a rare onscreen honesty, effortlessly conveying the discomfort and quiet resolve of a young woman trapped between youth and adulthood. With minimal dialogue, Collias uses subtle facial expressions and body language to reveal Sam’s emerging strength and burgeoning independence.
As Sam’s father Chris, James Le Gros brings his trademark gravitas to the complex role of a loving yet flawed single dad unable to fully understand his daughter’s needs. Le Gros deftly captures both Chris’ good intentions and unconscious selfishness in scenes around the campfire, leaving the audience sympathetic to his struggles even when his actions fail Sam.
Providing an engaging counterpoint is Danny McCarthy as Chris’ buddy Matt, all bluster and bravado compared to his introspective friend. McCarthy gives dimension to the aging man-child, exposing Matt’s insecurities and complicated relationship with his own distant son. Their rapport feels natural and lived-in.
Together, the trio of performances generates an authentic human drama out of quiet moments in the woods. The gifted actors find truth even in silence, giving Donaldson’s understated script room to breathe. Their emotional honesty allows the audience to project their own experiences onto the story, connecting deeply with these deftly crafted characters.
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A Poignant Coming-of-Age Tale
At its heart, “Good One” explores the intricacies of the father-daughter bond through Sam and Chris’ strained relationship. Their camping trip becomes a catalyst for change as Sam starts seeing her dad as a flawed human being instead of a protective father figure. Le Gros gives a nuanced turn as Chris, trying to recapture his little girl amidst his own midlife crisis. Yet Donaldson refuses to paint him as a villain. His actions reveal a dad struggling to adapt as Sam grows up.
This central relationship fuels the film’s poignant coming-of-age themes. Sam’s weekend in the woods marks a transitional point where she begins forging her own identity. Collias wonderfully conveys both the comforting familiarity of childhood and the growing pains of nascent adulthood in her thoughtful performance. Quiet scenes at the campfire and on secluded hiking trails demonstrate Sam’s dawning independence, no longer content to simply please her elders.
Donaldson subtly explores power dynamics between Sam and her male companions. They blithely dominate the conversational space, leaving little room for Sam’s self-expression. Yet she hesitates to challenge them, conditioned to be polite and compliant. The audience senses her discomfort as we watch her bite her tongue to keep the peace. It is a recognizable dynamic that resonates across generations and genders.
When long-simmering tensions finally reach a breaking point late in the film, Sam experiences a reckoning that frees her from past constraints. Donaldson gives her room to quietly process this transition, knowing words cannot encapsulate such a profound metamorphosis. Sam ends the film less willing to minimize herself for others’ comfort, regardless of their relationship.
These universal coming-of-age themes give “Good One” a timeless quality, anchored by Donaldson’s empathetic direction. She crafts an intimate human story from the film’s lush natural setting, celebrating the beauty and fragility of growing up.
Assured Direction and Technical Mastery
In her feature directorial debut, India Donaldson displays a veteran’s confidence, using understated visual storytelling to maximize the emotional impact of quiet moments. Patiently paced, the film trusts the audience to lean in and pick up on subtle cues from Sam as she navigates charged interactions with the men. Donaldson’s acute observations of body language reveal as much as dialogue.
Cinematographer Wilson Cameron makes excellent use of the film’s verdant Catskills setting. His contemplative nature shots echo the characters’ inner lives, like a stunning scene of sunlight dancing on rippling water as Sam reaches a crossroads. Cameron’s judicious close-ups focus our attention on Collias’ expressive face at key points.
Meanwhile, composer Celia Hollander’s gentle folk-inspired score enhances the film’s melancholy tone. The music swells during pivotal scenes but also knows when to subside to let the bubbling creek or rustling trees fill the soundscape.
This harmonious blend of directorial vision and technical artistry produces a film greater than the sum of its parts. Donaldson’s subtle storytelling choices complement the lyricism of the cinematography and music. Together, they shape a deeply affecting coming-of-age tale marked by emotional honesty. “Good One” announces an exciting new talent and cements Donaldson as a director to watch.
A Compelling Character Study
With her thoughtful direction and acute emotional insights, India Donaldson establishes herself as an exciting new talent with “Good One.” This haunting coming-of-age drama announces the arrival of a director with a unique voice and deep empathy for her characters. Donaldson’s sure-handed approach yields an introspective film that stays with you long after the credits roll.
Led by a stellar cast, especially breakout lead Lily Collias, “Good One” tells a timeless story about growing up and moving on. The film celebrates the beauty and fragility of the father-daughter bond even as it exposes the inevitable heartbreak when children start becoming adults. Its resonant themes and lush cinematography lend it a lyrical, melancholy tone.
Ultimately, Donaldson has crafted a compelling character study that feels true to life. The film’s honest exploration of family dynamics and personal growth heralds the emergence of a new cinematic storyteller to watch. Expect great things from Donaldson as her career unfolds. And prepare for Lily Collias to become your next indie darling after her quietly powerful star turn here. With “Good One,” they have reminded us of the magic that happens when you point a camera at real human interactions and let life unfold.
With its poetic visuals and hushed emotional power, "Good One" heralds the arrival of an exciting new directorial talent in India Donaldson. This contemplative coming-of-age drama announces itself as a compelling character study from its very first frame. Sensitive direction and moving performances coalesce to create a film that resonates long after viewing.
- Strong lead performance by Lily Collias
- Assured directional debut for India Donaldson
- Resonant coming-of-age themes
- Beautiful cinematography of the wilderness
- Strong character development and study
- Nuanced exploration of family dynamics
- Melancholy, introspective tone
- Slow pacing at times
- Plot feels slightly underdeveloped
- Some secondary characters could be better utilized
- Ambiguous ending may disappoint some