Oh boy. Sometimes, a movie just finds you in the right spot to be absolutely sucked in. At the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival, The Good Half is 100% that sort of flick. A story about a writer grieving his recently deceased mother? I can’t imagine why it would speak to me. Especially considering how it uses a ton of humor, as well as effectively placed moments of drama and pathos, it’s a loaded gun of emotion. It hit me square in the heart.
The Good Half is incredibly perceptive about the dynamics of what it’s depicting. I too was not there when my mother passed away, missing a chance to say goodbye. I also made inappropriate jokes at bad times, including at a funeral home. Guess who also spoke at said funeral almost on a whim, mainly because the person of faith speaking never met her? Yup, it’s me, hi. So, I found truth in this art. Beyond that, however, the film is funny, moving, and well-written, so it should likely appeal to those not in this exact situation, thankfully.
Renn Wheeland (Nick Jonas) is returning home to Cleveland for his mother’s funeral. Renn and Lily (Elisabeth Shue) had a very special relationship, one he really is only beginning to think about. On the flight, Zoey Abbot (Alexandra Shipp) strikes up a conversation with him, not realizing why he’s there, but finding him charming and giving him her number. At home, Renn finds his father Darren (Matt Walsh) at a loss, even though he and Lily divorced years ago. Renn’s sister Leigh (Brittany Snow) is pissed he’s ignored her calls, leaving her to do much of the planning. Now that he’s home, he’ll have to tag along.
Over the coming days, Renn will go with Leigh as they handle details of the funeral, navigate Lily’s jerk of a husband Rick Barona (David Arquette), and spend a few nights getting to know Zoey. Of course, Renn is a mess, which he’ll have to eventually reveal to Zoey. Oh, and he should probably come to terms with his grief. There’s no easy answers here, which the film smartly leans into, with both heart and humor.
Nick Jonas leads a really strong cast. Jonas turns in his finest performance to date, mixing some great line deliveries for the jokes with a truly recognizable depiction of fresh grief. We certainly don’t look the same, but I definitely saw a lot of myself from back in January in this turn. He’s quite good here. In flashbacks, Elisabeth Shue creates a vivid portrait of a mom that certainly seemed fun and kooky to others, but was absolutely singular to you. Alexandra Shipp is funny and warm, displaying great chemistry with Jonas. Brittany Snow is the serious one, but lets some great little remarks slip out, showcasing the family dynamic. The same goes for Matt Walsh. When Jonas, Snow, and Walsh share scenes, they’re among the funniest in the movie. Supporting players, aside from an appropriately jerky but never villainous David Arquette, include Mason Cufari, Stephen Park, among others.
Director Robert Schwartzman and writer Brett Ryland get the details right here. The fill The Good Half with humor, snide remarks, and moments that bring a tear to your eye. So much of it feels like they’ve been snooping on people in this situation, it’s scary. There are a few moments of less than realistic situations, but they help make the real feel even more real. Schwartzman has amused me with previous features like The Argument, Dreamland, and The Unicorn, but this is where he’s all put it together. More of this, please. I also think Ryland has a really exciting future, considering how vibrant and vivid this script is.
The Good Half was not what I expected at all. A few months ago, I would have avoided a film like this, for obvious reasons. I’m glad that I didn’t here, since not only is it among the best that Tribeca has had to offer this year, it’s just a wonderful depiction of a lot that I was feeling. Don’t let that deter you, either, as it’s also wildly entertaining. Here’s hoping that this one gets to have a wide release, as it’s something almost anyone can latch on to.