‘Good Grief’ Review: Stumbling Through Love and Loss In Daniel Levy’s Debut Film

This meditation on death and friendship showcases a dramatic side of Daniel Levy that may surprise viewers. It's doesn't all work, but it's thoughtful, brave, and sincere.

Daniel Levy, Ruth Negga, and Himesh Patel in Good Grief. Chris Baker / Netflix

There are a few things a good romantic comedy needs: an aspirational setting, a devastatingly beautiful kitchen, and a protagonist who finds true love. Dan Levy imbues his debut film, Good Grief, with these elements, but eschews the typical rom-com by opening the movie with a death rather than a meet-cute. Marc (Levy, who also wrote and directed) is an artist living in London with his dashing, wealthy husband Oliver (Luke Evans, perfectly cast). The pair appear to have everything, including the aforementioned kitchen, but on the eve of their annual Christmas party Oliver is killed in a car accident. 

GOOD GRIEF ★★1/2 (2.5/4 stars)
Directed by: Daniel Levy
Written by: Daniel Levy
Starring: Daniel Levy, Ruth Negga, Himesh Patel
Running time: 100 mins.

Consumed with grief, Marc spends the following year trying to forget his pain with the help of his friends Sophie (Ruth Negga) and Thomas (Himesh Patel). Despite their best efforts, Marc can’t imagine a life beyond Oliver, a famous author whose books Marc illustrated. There are glimmers of hope, like the Frenchman (Arnaud Valois) who buys Marc a drink at a party where Emma Corrin inexplicably cameos as a performance artist. But there is no escaping the profound sense of loss, which becomes even more complicated when some of Oliver’s secrets begin to emerge. 

At its core, Good Grief is a story about love. But Levy shies away from the sort of romantic love he portrayed with such emotional grace on Schitt’s Creek. Here he’s more interested in how we can love our friends and ourselves, especially when the shadow of grief looms large. These are imperfect characters stumbling through, as Marc, Sophie, and Thomas admit during a trip to Paris later in the story. No one has it all figured out, they agree—even if you have marble countertops in your London townhouse. It’s sappy at times, but so was Schitt’s Creek and the gentle sweetness of the film will likely appeal to a lot of viewers. 

The success of Schitt’s Creek—and the ongoing meme-fication of the series—has led many fans to assume Levy is a comedian. And certainly, he was hilarious as David Rose. But by Levy’s own admission, he’s far more introspective than his formative show might suggest. Despite its trappings as a rom-com, Good Grief isn’t particularly funny. It has a palpable feeling of levity, but it also showcases a dramatic side of Levy that may surprise viewers. Sure, there are elements of the film that feel unrealistic, but the emotional themes still resonate reasonably well. Through his grief, Marc finds love with himself rather than a romantic partner, which is a good message. 

Some of the film doesn’t quite land, including Negga’s Sophie, whose over-the-top-ness can be exhausting to watch. There’s not enough of Evans, although that may be part of the point. The geography of Paris as the characters walk around is creative, to say the least. A few scenes lack the depth they clearly strive for. But for a first film Good Grief is an impressive, thoughtful start. The movie is genuinely sincere, which is a brave direction for Levy to take in an era of quippy irony. It’s familiar, but with its own spin on the genre and in the end it’s a feel-good, comfort watch that Netflix should have released before the holidays.

Observer Reviews are regular assessments of new and noteworthy cinema.

‘Good Grief’ Review: Stumbling Through Love and Loss In Daniel Levy’s Debut Film