“Good Grief” (dir. Jim Owen, 2014, 12:06)
People who’ve lost a parent describe the physical sensation of grief, which manifests not just in crying and exhaustion, but in feeling like there’s a heavy weight pressing down on the chest and shoulders. Later, once that deep grief passes, it’s replaced by the nosy feeling that comes from sorting through the departed’s effects, and playing detective with old documents, photographs, and tchotchkes. The former is an experience that makes the people feel more bonded to those they’ve lost. The latter is a process that can make even a parent seem like a stranger.
Jim Owens’ short film “Good Grief” looks at both of these common rituals of mourning. Early in the film a woman named Molly (played by Rachel Stubbings), who’s just lost her mother, is wondering aloud, “How can I miss her so much already?” She’s depressed about her mom, and exasperated by her dad (Alex Kirk), a retired military man who’s living in a tent in his own backyard, refusing to say much or to let Molly into her mother’s padlocked bedroom. But then Molly forces her way in to that room, and finds what her dad had also apparently found, not long after the death: a large cache of sex toys and bondage gear, accompanied by a stack of explicit snapshots of Molly’s mom enjoying her special accessories with other men.
Owens has a good sense of the absurdity of the situation in “Good Grief,” which he plays for deadpan laughs without ever forgetting that his two main characters are dealing with a lot of shock and woe. As one secret about Molly’s mom unlocks another, Molly starts seeing her emotionally distant dad in an entirely new light, and wondering about her own identity in the context of all this new information. The ending of “Good Grief” fizzles a bit, as though Owens couldn’t figure out how bring this darkly funny little slice-of-life to a conclusion that wasn’t just two people saying, “Ewww,” in unison. But the film still has a lot of insight into how adulthood is a gradual process of demythologizing the authority figures of youth, and learning sometimes painfully how to see teachers, politicians, cops, and parents as ordinary people, susceptible to the same dumb weaknesses and inexplicable desires as anybody.
[Note: While Owens handles the pornographic material here tastefully, he doesn’t keep it offscreen altogether, which means that “Good Grief” should be considered NSFW—albeit only mildly, in my opinion.]
Previous “Short Cuts” columns can be found <here.