The first thing I thought of when I saw this title, beyond the obvious, was the film by John Waters called "Pecker." The makers of both films clearly meant the titles to appeal to our more prurient interests. But whereas "Pecker" was a rather breezy, lightweight affair, "Good Dick" is a darker romantic comedy, which while sometimes bordering on the bizarre comes across in the end as sweet and affecting. It's one of those little pictures that played at just about every film festival in the country in 2008, including Sundance, and then wound up going straight to video, making it a shame that not more people saw it.
A note of caution (or a note of praise) at the beginning, though: The film is not nearly so heavy or so thoughtful as its psychological implications might imply. Yes, it's dark and often weird, but it's also a romantic comedy, with the emphases on both the romance and the comedy. Despite the tone of its subject matter, which we'll get into in a minute, it's not really the downer you might expect.
First-time writer, co-producer, director, and star Marianna Palka can rightfully say that this is her project from start to finish. Moreover, as a woman born and raised in Scotland, she does a passable American accent, although, to be fair, her character has hardly more than a few words to say throughout the whole picture. Her co-star is American actor Jason Ritter, the son of actor John Ritter and a man who's been in front of a camera since he was a kid. Perhaps surprisingly, Palka and Ritter make an attractive acting duo, given their diverse backgrounds and their movie characters' strained relationship.
"Good Dick" is as quirky a little romance as you're going to find, with neither of the two main characters particularly likable. Ritter plays a young man (intentionally nameless throughout) who works in a video store and is next to penniless. His three best friends are his co-workers in the shop, Eric, Simon, and Derek (Eric Edelstein, Martin Starr, and Mark Webber), who comprise the closest thing he has to a family. He has no girlfriend, and he spends his night in his car. His greatest asset is his childlike naïveté, his high good spirits, his determination, his refusal to give up.
Ms. Palka plays a young woman (also nameless throughout) who has no job but appears to have plenty of money. She is reclusive and almost never leaves her apartment except to go out to the young's man shop and rent porn videos, which she watches all day. She has no friends, won't speak to anyone, and won't respond in any case.
Yet the attraction between people will have its way. The man becomes fascinated with the woman, follows her to her apartment, and begins to insinuate himself into her life. Odd? You bet, given that the woman, although good-looking, is practically catatonic, a kind of living-dead zombie. He's persistent, though, despite his having the door slammed in his face on more than a few occasions. I mean, she probably thinks he's a stalker the way he hounds her day and night. Still, it's evident he sees something in her, something no one else can see. What it is we never learn; maybe he just has a sixth sense or something, or maybe love will out no matter what.
He grows on her. After a while she relents and lets him into her apartment. Why she does this, his being a perfect stranger, is also unclear. So the film leaves a good deal to the viewer's imagination, just as the film's title does. When it's over, you can ponder the meaning of it all and the motivations of its characters. If the answers you find don't really satisfy what you anticipated as deeply profound insights into the human psyche, don't worry about it. It's the kind of film that never delves too intensely into anything but rather allows one simply to enjoy the process. Maybe the film is suggesting that human attraction is a mystery, and we shouldn't question the fact too strongly.
Anyway, the woman is weird, and one gets the distinct impression she may be more than a little unbalanced. When she does let him into her place, he spends the night--on the couch. When she finally lets him into her bed, it's without touching. Apparently, she does want a friend; she just doesn't want a lover. And she has a strange way of showing it. When he professes his love for her, she tells him she hates him and can't stand the sight of his face. Some relationship.
Yet, as I say, he's persistent. He's determined not to let her rude, eccentric behavior put him off. An old man comes into the video shop one day, played, curiously, by the always persuasive Charles Durning, who tells the young men behind the counter that everybody needs someone. "Find someone" to love, he tells them. Which brings us, finally, to the point of the film: That all people on some level need to love others and have others love them. It's just that some folks, especially ones with troubled pasts, have a peculiar way of showing it.
Speaking of peculiar, not only does Durning make a surprise visit to the film, but so does Tom Arnold, playing the young woman's estranged father. Both Arnold and Durning are fine in their little cameo roles, but they tend to jar one's concentration, coming as they do out of the blue. Nevertheless, that's the nature of this movie: Out of the blue.
"Good Dick" is not a film that every viewer will embrace, which is probably why no distributor would take a chance on exhibiting it theatrically. However, it is a movie that can grow on you, the way the young man grows on the young woman. And if you're as relentless in trying to get through the film as the young man is in pursuing the love of his life, you may just find "Good Dick" rewarding. Different but engaging and ultimately rewarding.
The filmmakers used an HD video camera and what appears to be a lot of natural light to shoot "Good Dick," so the picture quality suffers somewhat compared to more traditional (and more expensive) filming. The 1.85:1 ratio, anamorphic transfer does what it can with the original print, but expect a soft, slightly smeared image, with only moderate black levels. Almost the whole movie has a kind of veil over it, giving it a dull sheen. This perpetual twilight isn't bad, though, since it matches the darkly comedic tone of the story.
The disc offers the choice of hearing the soundtrack via Dolby Digital 5.1 surround or Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo, although no matter which choice you make, the result is about the same: Not much dynamic range or frequency response, not much rear or side-channel activity, and not much front-channel stereo spread except in a couple of musical interludes. This is largely a dialogue-driven movie, and that's where probably ninety-nine percent of the sound lies. Fortunately, it's good midrange, and it renders dialogue cleanly.
The primary extra is a sixty-five-minute featurette, "Good Dick Goes to Sundance," wherein we see the cast and crew being endlessly interviewed about their film. It's a good behind-the-scenes look at the film festival, if nothing else. After that are two trailers for the movie, a series of trailers for other movies at start-up only, an eleven-minute gag reel, and twelve scene selections. English is the only available spoken language, with Spanish subtitles.
To say that "Good Dick" is an unconventional romantic comedy might be putting it mildly. Still, it's a lot more poignant and a lot more satisfying than most of Hollywood's big-budget, star-studded takes on the subject. I just wonder if it wasn't the movie's title and the movie's talkativeness that put off potential distributors; I hope these things won't put off potential DVD viewers.