A hiking trip puts a father-daughter relationship to the test in this slow-burn Sundance debut

Good One

Source: Courtesy of Visit Films

Good One

Dir/scr: India Donaldson. US. 2024. 89 mins

The generational divide is a constant travelling companion during a father-daughter hiking trip in Good One. India Donaldson’s minimalist, slow-burn feature debut reveals a sensibility that inevitably invites comparisons with the work of Kelly Reichardt, especially Old Joy.  Featuring a compelling central performance from Lily Collias, Donaldson’s subtle exploration of family dynamics has been well received at a string of US festivals following its Sundance premiere, while Metrograph Pictures has set a domestic theatrical release for August.

 A surface veneer of calm constantly conceals turbulent emotions

Donaldson has previously directed a trio of shorts: If Found (2021), Hannahs (2019) and Medusa (2018). Her first feature begins as 17 year-old Sam (Lily Collias) is preparing for an annual camping trip with her divorced dad Chris (James Le Gros) and his oldest friend Matt (Danny McCarthy). This year, Matt’s son Dylan (Julian Grady) has refused to accompany them, leaving Sam the sole youngster on a trip with two late-middle-aged men.

The old friends prove to be entirely self-absorbed. The seemingly genial, sincere Chris proves to be an uptight know-it-all who loves to micro-manage every aspect of their trip to the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. Danny is a once successful actor whose career has faded. Apparently a more relaxed, laidback figure, he reveals a vulnerability and loneliness as the trip progresses. The needling banter and bickering between the men leaves Sam to bear witness to their strife and play peacekeeper on the journey. Her good grace and tolerance are completely taken for granted.

Collias (previously seen in 2022’s Palm Trees And Power Lines) is highly effective at conveying her character’s feelings without the need for any dialogue. A dry chuckle reveals her indulgence of the duo’s familiar bantering, a sly look shared with a cashier acknowledges her exasperation. She is endlessly tolerant of a situation that other teenagers would openly resent. She is compliant rather than rebellious. 

Good One is a film in which a surface veneer of calm constantly conceals turbulent emotions. Donaldson and cinematographer/co-producer Wilson Cameron contrast the human tensions with a tranquil vision of the natural world they are traversing. This is a film suffused with lingering shots of timeless waterfalls, rocky trails, flora, fauna, fluttering butterflies and crawling bugs that are all oblivious to these temporary human intruders. 

A low-level of simmering tensions hums throughout the entire story. A chance encounter with a trio of young hikers brings out the petty, competitive side of Chris. Neither Chris nor Matt seem to appreciate that Sam is an individual, and probably more grown-up than either of them. On the eve of their three-day walk in the woods, the trio shares a room with the two men claiming the comfy beds and an uncomplaining Sam expected to sleep on the floor. Much further on, Chris casually asks: “Are you looking forward to college?” Sam reacts with astonishment as this is the first question her father has asked during the trip.

Change comes after an event that crosses a line. It is not the nature of the event itself but the responses to it that push Sam towards a clearer understanding of the price she has paid for her passivity. Donaldson remains true to her instincts by eschewing dramatic fireworks as she draws Good One to its unresolved conclusion. The ending is as low-key as the rest of the film, but the subtle shifts in power and understanding feel like a significant coming of age.

Production companies: International Pigeon Productions, Smudge Films, Tinygiant

International sales: Visit Films info@visitfilms.com

Producers: Graham Mason, Diana Irvine, Wilson Cameron, India Donaldson

Cinematography: Wilson Cameron

Production design: Becca Brooks Morrin

Editing: Graham Mason

Music: Celia Hollander

Main cast: Lily Collias, James Le Gros, Danny McCarthy