The main issue with Goodbye World is that it’s basically a teen soap opera set during the apocalypse. No, none of the main characters are teenagers in high school, but their conflicts (and how they deal with them) are like those of a generic high school romance flick. This is problematic because (aside from the fact that the characters are adults) no one really gives a shit about watching people moan about infidelity and who-kissed-who when the world is collapsing. It also doesn’t help that the characters are poorly-sketched and wholly generic. There are a number of other issues which are more minor like some of the heavy-handed symbolism, such as an image of a giant bubble bursting shortly before one of the characters coming by and telling everyone that the world is ending (unfortunately, this symbol is also reused at the end, except we don’t see the bubble bursting, signifying that everything’s going to be a-okay.) The film dabbles with the same tropes that other “end of the world” movies are defined by, and is suffused with numerous cliches. You’ll see what I mean once you read the plot:
The movie opens up with the wealthy Palmer family who live self-sufficiently in a cabin in the mountains of Northern California. The father, James Palmer (Adrian Grenier) tells the audience that he predicts the eventual collapse of civilization. But before the collapse we see a bunch of his friends from college: Nick (Ben McKenzie) and his wife Becky (Caroline Dhavernas) are heading to see the Palmers who they haven’t seen in years due to James buying him out of the company they founded together. We soon find out that, aside from merely making amends, Nick wants to steal James’s wife, Lily (Kerry Bishe), whom he was engaged to in the past, either as an act or love, or revenge, or both. We also see Benji (Mark Webber) an activist who went to jail for five years for burning down a factory (or something, I forget and don’t care) who now lectures at colleges and eventually fucks a student, Ariel (Remy Nozik) who he, later on, brings to the Palmer’s cabin. We’re also introduced to Lev (Scott Mescudi) a suicidal computer hacker and Laura (Gaby Hoffman) who loves democracy so much that she fucked a senator.
Soon, everyone in the country starts receiving the text, “Goodbye World” then the power grid is knocked-out, prompting the country (or the world’s) collapse as people begin to riot. All of the main characters, fortunately, huddle together at the Palmers’s cabin which has a well and solar panels, allowing them to survive alone for a couple of years. It’s not a bad set-up, but we start running into some problems. For one thing, everyone seems way too calm given the circumstances. There’s one scene where they’re all having dinner together as they go around, stating what they’re going to miss most about civilization. Everyone comes off a bit glib, as if they’re talking about their favorite amusement park closing down, not the end of days; I’m not saying that they should be in hysterics, but not only does this scene (from the way it’s written to the acting) seems unrealistic, but it doesn’t help create any sense of tension, if anything it alleviates it. This alleviation of tension also makes things more predictable for now the viewers are preparing themselves for something to bad to happen. Like in the next scene when we’re introduced to a couple of soldiers who want to quarter the cabin. There is no ambiguity that these guys are bad given the ominous music that plays once they leave (after Becky tells them that they cannot force themselves in because of the Third Amendment) and also when they’re checking out Ariel lounging in a bikini. Again, more predictability, and also stereotyping as we see them later on drinking and making demands like a couple of thugs.
So the movie comes off as a generic apocalypse film, but it turns out to be an even worse soap opera. Cliches abound, such as the exchanges between Nick and Lily. They kiss and then are interrupted when Becky calls for her husband. He hides and Becky enters, asking if Lily’s seen him around. Lily then proceeds to tell her how great of a man she is and how lucky she is to have him:
Lily: Becky, you’re really lucky to have him. He’s kind and he’s loving; he listens. James fell out of love for me when he fell in love with Hannah [Lily and James’s daughter–did I forget to mention they had a young daughter? Whoops.] He wouldn’t even notice if I was gone.
Becky: I’m sure that’s not true.
Lily: I really don’t belong here…
Becky: You know it’s your home–you can make it whatever you want it to be…
No, I’m serious, this is actual dialogue from the film; I swear I didn’t rip this from a dull soap opera (though I might as well have.) Not only is it terribly cliched, but it’s all the worse considering that the characters are dealing with the end of the world; should they really be giving a shit about such dramatics? One might argue that the point of the movie is to show how petty people are regardless of their situations, but the movie legitimately wants us to care about such melodrama; they even play sappy alt-rock when Lily and Nick are kissing, unironically. And even if the point of the movie was to show how petty people are, then the movie fails for, even if people are that petty, they’re still going to prioritize. There are some good (bad) lines that are contained within the preceding scene as well, like when Nick reveals that he’s co-owner of the cabin and they argue (yes, they’re arguing about finances) Becky chimes in with a stunner: “We’re in the middle of an apocalypse, the property value’s going to shoot through the roof!” Again, with no irony.
It should come to no surprise then that many of the characters are poorly-wrought; there’s the aforementioned soldiers, but also Lev who is a character with zero substance. The only thing that he has going for him is that he’s a techno-whiz and has a gun, also he may or may not have caused the whole end-of-the-world debacle (there’s a terrible scene where James asks Lev, in the most flat, bizarre manner, if he’s a terrorist or not–he later tries to justify this by saying he was trying to catch him off guard, but it still doesn’t change how comical the delivery was.) The movie probably would have been better off without him and have Benji adopt some of his traits instead. We already know that Benji is (or was) a radical and, even though the audience would still doubt his involvement, it would at least be a little more compelling considering that Benji is a more fleshed-out character.
Another frustrating aspect of the film is that characters often do stupid things to propel the action. Benji, for example, feeling inadequate as a “revolutionary” decides to confront the soldiers, who have taken control of a nearby commune, after one of them molests Laura and points a gun at Lev; he does so by grabbing a baseball bat and marching into the woods. While it makes sense that he wants to do something about the soldiers I doubt anyone would be dumb enough to think he can take a couple of armed solders on with a stick. But this is quickly resolved when he steps on an animal trap, leading Becky to help him out and eventually want to fuck him. There’s also James who also decides to confront the soldiers and try to convince the commune that he’s the good guy (they’re mad that he’s hoarding medicine and supplies,) but he doesn’t come with a gun and expects everyone to listen to reason. This might be a bit more forgivable considering that he had just found out that Nick kissed Lily and that they still love each other and his reasoning might be clouded by his emotions, but it’s still frustrating to watch.
Some positives: the acting is decent, overall. The weakest performances come from the guys who play the soldiers, Lev, Becky and James, but it’s really the writing that lowers the characters. The cinematography also isn’t that too shabby, especially with the opening shots. Some symbolism is decent, such as when they’re trying to fix the antennae on the television, they only receive a staticy/distorted image of President Obama speaking; it’s obvious, but it’s still an interesting way to encapsulate the nation’s overall downfall, both societal and technological. Some symbolism sucks though, like the bubble, but also the giant, stuffed bear that Nick and Becky brought Hannah as a gift. For whatever reason, the filmmakers tried to make the image of the bear deeper than it actually is; the attempts are too obvious and almost cringe-worthy (especially at the end where Becky grabs the bear, sits it down in front of a tree and says goodbye to her family and the world before getting on a motorcycle with Benji.)
No, the movie isn’t terrible, thus it’s undeserving of its 24% score on Rotten Tomatoes, but it’s barely mediocre, almost falling into the “bad” category. What’s odd, however, is that I watched this movie after trying to watch the show Jericho on Netflix. What’s interesting is that that show is hardly better than Goodbye World, yet is lauded by critics and people on the internet. So while I think the internet is right to think this movie isn’t “the tops” I wouldn’t take that as a sign that people, in general, know what they are talking about; even when they are right it’s almost by chance. So would I recommend this movie? Not really. Even if you like soap operas and post-apocalyptic whatever, you’re more likely to find (if not better) more entertaining examples of both elsewhere.