On a good vacation, time seems to stand still. You lose track of the days, the deadlines, the impending day of departure.
“Good Life” is movie about such a getaway that mimics that stasis. And as anybody knows, “time seems to stand still” isn’t something we look for in a movie.
It’s a downbeat romantic comedy that summons few laughs, even if it manages to deliver a little romance, even if it does a passable job of passing a coastal town in South Africa off a a quaint Greek village.
Hey, any port will do in a pandemic storm, right?
South African casting director turned writer-director Bonnie Rondini excels in her specialty, populating this picture with a diverse selection of South African actors and some passably authentic looking and sounding Greeks (everybody speaks English, mostly). But the picture’s limp story, indifferent direction and static pacing do it in.
Olive (Erica Wessels) is a 30something Cape Town dental hygienist with her mind on love, even when her hands are cleaning some little old man’s teeth. She’s checking her messages constantly, hoping to close the deal with this on-again/off-again guy who might be “the one.”
But John dumps her, by text, and that’s that. Getting “back out there” is a struggle. Disapproving snipes from her recently-widowed mother (Jennifer Steyn) are no help. The shock of how quickly John moves on rattles Olive further. In the middle of a snippy exchange with her mother and family friends over “How did you come to South Africa,” Olive has her answer.
Mom and Dad fled Greece “after the coup.” Dad still has a house there. There’s even an aunt Olive’s never met. No, Mom will “never go back.” That settles it. Olive will “get away,” go see the old house in the old village, over mother Athena’s testiest objections.
That’s also the vibe Olive picks up on in the tiny seaside town. A man tells her where the house is…or was. But the old bitties of the village won’t sell her mosquito netting or anything else that will allow her to camp on the house’s ruins. And nobody will speak to her about her parents, the past or their history there.
An Albanian refugee (Caleb Payne) boy is her sole confidante, go-between with the merchants and advisor. He’s seven years old.
“The village has given you the evil eye,” he declares, and considering the tea-leaf reading, spitting in her presence and gossip (in Greek) in her absence, Olive has to assume he’s right.
Too many movies have already been made about a lovelorn woman finding a hot younger Greek lover that it’d be a shock if Rondini didn’t provide one (Sven Ruygrok). It plays as a perfunctory invention here. The entire movie’s a collection of cutesy cliches and Greek stereotypes.
Lazy bureaucrats, tribal locals, a love-hate relationship with tourists and other outsiders are all trotted out in this cut-and-paste screenplay.
There’s little spark to any of the performances, even the ones meant to twinkle. Like its heroine, “Good Life” starts out “stuck” in South Africa, and too little changes when she moves to Greece.
Rondini does her best to give the picture “local color” — an octopus fished out of Homer’s “wine dark sea,” a town square that feels utterly Mediterranean.
But there’s not enough “color,” jokes, romance, surprises or incidents — just the occasional accident — to animate this still-life.
Rating: unrated, adult situations, smoking
Cast: Erica Wessels, Sven Ruygrok, Caleb Payne, Robyn Scott, Jennifer Steyn and Nicky Rebelo
Credits: Scripted and directed by Bonnie Rodini. A Level 33 release.
Running time: 1:45