Gala & Godfrey

(USA 2016)

Gala & Godfrey is a somewhat twisted and bitter romantic comedy—if you call it romantic or comedic. More accurately, it’s an examination of a relationship that probably never should have been, but the participants are stuck. Any child of divorce will relate to it. Sometimes, it’s interesting; other times, not so much. Either way, it’s surprisingly and refreshingly accurate.

Gala (Molly Pepper), a coat check girl at a Los Angeles rock club, crosses paths with Godfrey (Adam Green), the smarmy British front man of a third-rate wannabe “punk” band during the mid-’90s—think Third Eye Blind, Sublime, Blink 182, and Friends. A mildly intense love/hate thing develops between the two, and we see how neurotic both of them are. There’s a lot of material here, and much of it is amusing. Pepper and Green work their chemistry really well, creating an unlikely sweet and funny but dysfunctional bond that isn’t pitiable; the last part is key, because the believability of the whole thing rides on it. Gala & Godfrey easily could have flown off the rails—and it got unbearably close quite a few times. Fortunately, though, Pepper and Green pull it off. It certainly doesn’t hurt that director Kristin Ellingson recognizes the value of restraint and skillfully uses it at just the right moments.

I enjoyed Gala & Godfrey, but it feels like a work in progress. The “framework of a record album” concept sounds cool; executed here, though, it’s gimmicky and unnecessary, and ultimately ends up at best a momentary diversion and at worst a distraction that adds nothing to the story but cheesy graphics. The characters are strong enough to carry the film, so I’m not sure what Ellingson is worried about. She does an exceptionally awesome job incorporating Los Angeles into the story; the city itself is a principal character. Somehow, I don’t see the film working if it were set anywhere else.

Far from perfect, Gala & Godfrey is nonetheless warm, inviting, familiar, and slightly offbeat—much like an afternoon drinking in old Hollywood, a wonderful experience. Some minor tweaking that focuses more on idiosyncrasy and a few plot surprises would be good; then this would come off as not only more honest but far more interesting. It’s almost there.

(Tower City Cinemas) B-

Cleveland International Film Festival

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