August 8th 2010 Good Dick Is a Painful Experience

The great thing about bad movies is that the review pretty much writes itself. Based on a suggestion by Netflix, I watched Good Dick, an underwhelming film by writer-director Marianna Palka about a lonely young woman and the lovelorn video store clerk who slips into her life by sharing soft-core porn with her. It’s an interesting, possibly even romantic, idea, but Good Dick goes limp pretty quickly.

Good Dick DVD cover

Netflix is convinced I’m some sort of film hipster, going so far as to create a category for me called “Quirky Independent Suburban-Dysfunctional Movies”. The thing is, Netflix is usually right. In fact, its recommendation of Good Dick—a movie that Netflix predicted I’d like with the zeal of four stars—is but one major failure in a string of brilliant successes. It’s not Netflix’s fault, though: based on the cover art, it appears to be a witty, charming romantic comedy in the same vein as Juno. The person who said you can’t judge a book (or a DVD) by its cover must’ve foreseen Good Dick.

Good Dick is primarily shot in two locations: a video store, and the girl’s apartment. I’d like to think the director wanted a challenge like that of Twelve Angry Men, but she was probably just trying to economize on sets. She certainly didn’t splurge on casting, either: the entire cast consists of cheap plastic knockoffs of blockbuster movie stars. The female lead (also Marianna Palka) is a low-cost copy of Kristen Stewart, who’s already the Wal-Mart edition of a good actress. There’s also a photocopy of Seth Rogen (although the real Martin Starr appears in the film, in case that matters to you). If those star-studded templates were Legos, the cast of Good Dick would be Mega Bloks.

So, the plot: A lonely girl (Marianna Palka) frequently rents soft-core porn from a local video store. Piqued by her taste in erotic film, the video store clerk (Jason Ritter) follows her home one night, stalking her until she lets him watch porn with her (as long as he doesn’t get an erection). Hilarity ensues—or so I’d hoped, but the only thing funny about Good Dick is that I sat through eighty-six minutes of it. The rest of the movie is mostly a sequence of scenes of the two of them watching awful porn and arguing about sex (which they’re not having). Occasionally these sequences are interrupted by the girl telling the clerk that she just got her period or she hasn’t masturbated in a few days. I’d give Palka a pass to write dialogue this weird if she were European, but Palka is Scottish, which makes her European only by technicality.

Good Dick is ostensibly about the nature of sex in relationships, but it does little more than scratch the surface of what is generally an interesting topic, and the characters approach this subject with all the complexity and nuance of middle school students.

All this would be acceptable if the film were witty, or at least quirky, but I’ve heard sharper dialogue in Will Ferrell movies. To wit, here’s the climax to a scene in which the main characters are debating the physical appearance of penises:

Man: I think my dick looks really nice.
Woman: That’s because you’re an idiot.

The whole movie feels like Palka’s fuck-you to all the guys who didn’t get her “dark” personality and couldn’t find her clitoris (yes, they talk about that in the film, too). And therein lies the problem with even critiquing this film: it’s awkwardly personal. It reminds me of workshopping short stories in my college creative writing courses. It flows like a love story written by a frustrated college sophomore who wanted an artistic way to explain why she hadn’t had sex in a long time, when the real reason was her shitty—pardon me, brooding—personality. Good Dick speaks from the heart, but it says something no one but the writer cares about.

Leveling that criticism should probably make me feel guilty, because in the film’s climax you find out that the main character was sexually abused by her father (I’m not spoiling the ending: the director wishes you didn’t find out until the end, but even the densest of viewers can deduce that in the first fifteen minutes). But I don’t feel guilty, because Palka depicts the abuse in such a ham-handed way that it’s clear her only experience comes from Lifetime movies and 20/20 specials.

In the end, there’s really nothing redeeming about this film. It’s not witty, it’s not charming, and despite the feverish discussions about sex and porn, you don’t get to see any boobs. It doesn’t even present a fresh take on the meaning of relationships. The only good thing about Good Dick was the constant reminder that there are people more awkward than me.