Director Dan Levy surely knew that a film following the effervescent, fun, star-studded hit that was his Emmy-winning “Schitt’s Creek” wouldn’t be as simple as copying and pasting his winning formula into the demands of a movie. Fortunately, “Good Grief,” the Christmas-scented comedy-drama that he also wrote and stars in, feels like its own thing. If “Schitt’s” was a tart snack with an admirably sticky center, “Good Grief” — about getting over loss with infuriating friends in upscale settings — favors its tang and sweetness in a more balanced swirl.
If only it felt like a complete meal. Ultimately, “Good Grief” promises more than its initial kit of romantic comedy elements and good intentions can deliver. But within that welcoming aura are a number of pleasures, beginning with Levy’s homoneurotic appeal as a cynically romantic gay lead. There’s also a suitably complicated situation that justifies a trip to Paris (as necessary), peppered with the great Ruth Negga giving an animated extravaganza worthy of the silent era as “a lot,” to use her character’s self-description.
We first meet Marc de Levy, a painter turned illustrator, at the Christmas soirée he and his charming best-selling author husband, Oliver (Luke Evans), host each year at their London digs. However, the festivities literally come to a halt when Oliver leaves early for a work trip and is killed just a block away in a car accident.
Right away, in a pleasantly saucy funeral scene, Levy shows how pain is never a thing (and is not always not fun): for an unconsciously narcissistic actor from one of the films adapted from Oliver’s juvenile novels (a Kaitlyn Dever of a single scene), death is an extinct franchise. But for the father who learned to accept his son writing about princesses (an exquisite performance by David Bradley), sadness and gratitude can be wonderfully intertwined.
For Marc, however, grief is something he stumbles through, complicated by the revelation a year later that Oliver had planned to leave him for someone else. Devastated and confused, Marc heads to Paris with his friends Sophie (Negga) and Thomas (Himesh Patel) to search for the roots of a betrayal, but also of a long-awaited reboot.
You can’t blame Levy for wanting his first film to double down on its Europhilia, moving from Christmassy London to cozy Paris. And among the café chats and regretful walks, including one Marc takes with a potential love (Arnaud Valois), are some sharp observations about under-examined lives and overly accepted behaviors in loved ones. Not to mention a gut-wrenching playlist unhip enough that you could go back and play Bonnie Raitt and Neil Young for vibes.
As adult as “Good Grief” feels at times, it also plays a bit superficially, plotted without much attention to what makes sense or what might warrant richer exploration beyond a well-structured throughline. Levy’s front-and-center sadness compels, but even with Negga’s watchable antics and Patel’s believable earnestness, these characters aren’t rich enough for the third-act friendship crisis to successfully lift the film from a notable standpoint. power drop. And the less said about Marc’s journey the better, since art therapy is much lower on the list of acceptable rom-com clichés than one-liners or a City of Lights backdrop.
Marc is mourning Oliver, but you can certainly read something else into the emotional parameters of “Good Grief”: Levy trying to find her way after “Schitt’s Creek.” That’s a nice aspect of this uneven but serious film, which you can see on Levy’s face, made for comedy but also delicately disturbing, scared and mocking. “Good Grief” may not fully satisfy as a heart-and-soul affair, but it creates a desire to see more of what we know Levy can offer.
Classification: R, for language and brief drug use.
Execution time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Playing: Now streaming on Netflix