“If you’re expecting an apocalyptic end-of-the-world movie with burning cities and cars exploding, I’m sure there’s one playing in the theater down the hall,” director Denis Henry Hennelly admitted before his first screening of Goodbye World at the Los Angeles Film Festival, “But if you’re still here, then hopefully you will find this apocalypse story a little different…and maybe even a little charming.”
Hennelly could not have given a more precise introduction his film. A single, ominous text message reading ‘goodbye world’ is sent to every phone on Earth. The text opens cellular networks for a wide-scale terrorist attack, which sets off a chain reaction that causes the world to plummet into a modern doomsday. In response to the attack, a group of college friends travel to a rural compound owned by their old roommates, James (Adrian Grenier) and Lily (Kerry Bishe), who withdrew from society long ago to prepare for such a catastrophe. The reunion consists of Laura (Gaby Hoffmann), a high-powered politician who lost her career after a sex video of her went viral, a suicidal computer hacker named Lev (Kid Cudi), the ex-convict and anti-government activist Benji (Mark Webber) and his young rebel girlfriend Ariel (Remy Nozik), Lily’s ex-boyfriend Nick (Ben McKenzie) who still harbors feelings for her, and Nick’s conservative wife, Becky (Caroline Dhavernas).
Chaos ensues. With the end of the world looming overhead, dormant longings and hostilities rise to the surface, hearts get broken, and copious amounts of marijuana get smoked. Almost every scene sneaks in an intellectual liberal dialogue about government, society, global warming, etc. that prevents the script from becoming too soap-opera-like, but may feel overbearing for those who aren’t left-leaning idealists.
While the script does verge on absurd at times, the real charm comes from perfectly played characters. Every character overcomes their stereotype with unexpected depth. Bishe, for example, gives the character Lily such authenticity that it’s completely believable that she is both an adorable ditz and computer science prodigy. Dhavernas brings surprising richness to her role by seamlessly transitioning her character Becky from being a tight-wound conservative to arguably the most open-minded character of the group toward the end of the film.
Without these performances, Goodbye World would’ve easily fallen into the dark depths of misbegotten disaster melodramas. The picture itself is tightly edited and beautifully captured, but the script bites off much more than it can chew. Hennelly and his co-writer Sarah Adina Smith try to cram drama, comedy, and a political message into every scene, which makes the overall product feel more like a confused hybrid than a clear-cut futuristic apocalypse film. Hennelly is correct, however, in that it might just be the most charming catastrophe film in theaters right now.