Yasmine Kandil


Good One – first-look review

India Donaldson's feature debut is a naturalistic portrait of the tensions between young women and their fathers as a teenager takes a hiking trip with her dad and his best friend.

Having premiered at Sundance and played New Directors/New Films at the top of the year, India Donaldson’s Good One is the only title at this year’s edition of Cannes, across all competitions and sidebars, to have played at another festival. Her ultra-naturalistic feature debut finds 17-year-old Sam (Lily Collias) collating her essential gear for a three-day camping trip with her father Chris (James Le Gros), his recently divorced best friend Matt (Danny McCarthy), and his teenage son Dylan, who backs out of the trip just as they intend to depart. The generational divide is discernable from the get-go, but seems relatively playful initially, highlighted through jokes about Sam looking like she would be a vegetarian and light chastising of her opinions. After an obligatory gas station pit stop, the trio park the car and set off.

Accompanied by a whimsical cacophony of ringing of wind chimes, the pang of xylophone keys, and the ambient rustling of trees, the trio ventures deep into the heart of the Catskills wilderness. Past streams flowing serenely down rocky paths and through rockpools crowded with squirming tadpoles, Matt and Chris keep themselves amused by discussing what they would choose to do should they have another chance at life, spanning from owning a bookshop to becoming a philosopher, before turning to Sam for her input. Forgetting how much life she is still yet to live, she proclaims that she “still gets to choose this one”. This is the first sign that she is wise beyond her years, and is labelled a “good one” by Matt in comparison to other kids her age, including his son, who is struggling to grapple with his parent’s divorce.

What presents itself as a compliment quickly spirals into Matt viewing Sam in a new light and it is here that the narrative reaches its boiling point, as Donaldson captures the gut-wrenching moment in each young woman’s life where you feel betrayed by those who are meant to protect you. The energies of all parties shift, but instead of these tensions exploding into confrontation, they quietly bubble over, devastatingly capturing how women are encouraged not to take these incidents too seriously, or to react “sensitively” when suggestive comments are directed towards us. Worse still – to believe that we may have played a role in their occurrence. Every woman will recognise the way Sam retreats into herself, finally mustering up the courage to say something to her father, only to be met with excuses that will forever taint their relationship.

Lily Collias is sensational in her first leading role, expertly painting a portrait of a young woman in which many will see themselves reflected. The nuance upheld in her physicality allows the audience to glimpse Sam’s subconscious and train of thought without uttering a single word. Donaldson crafts the most profound debut of the year so far all within a neatly polished runtime, something that has been hard to come by as of late. Its soothing start contrasts its tense ending, leaving all cards on the table to question the seemingly mundane with the enlightenment of retrospect.

Published 20 May 2024

Tags: Good One India Donaldson Lily Collias

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