Goodbye World opens in a manner that promises a more interesting movie than it actually is. We’re introduced to various characters all across the country receiving mysterious spam texts saying “Goodbye World”. What they don’t realize is that this is a mass-text phenomenon designed to cripple the technological infrastructure, a.k.a. the first signs of an act of cyberterrorism. Before the characters even know it, all electronics have been deactivated, meaning that civilization has been left to ruin.
What this sets up is a sprawling, detailed look at how various ordinary lives are affected by this “technopocalypse”–like a more modern, timely version of Contagion. What we get instead is a low-key, one-location indie dramedy about characters forced to cope with their relationship issues now that they’re all holed up in one setting. It’s a jarring direction to go considering how well the opening credits montage seemingly establishes everything. That, plus the fact that the set-up is so interesting ends up making the more pedestrian elements of the film all the less engaging.
This is a strangely misguided film in how it perceives what its strengths and weaknesses are. For all the interesting and original commentary one can use with its vision of a technologically-created societal collapse, the film opts instead for something we’ve seen a million times before: A bunch of upper-middle to higher class white twentysomethings (and one token black guy, because that’s the rule for these kinds of indie movies, apparently) dealing with their relationship issues through witty banter and a few emotional low-points.
It’s not half-bad at being a relationship dramedy, if we’re being honest. The actors are all fairly charismatic, with special mention to Gaby Hoffmann and Kid Cudi being the best of the ensemble, and the film is peppered with fairly humorous scenes and dialogue that made it infectiously watchable for the most part. That being said, none of it is executed in an original way, and the whole cyberterrorism angle doesn’t automatically make the relationship aspects original, nor does it infuse it with immediacy or dramatic tension. If anything, everyone in the film takes this supposed “apocalypse” a bit too well and non-chalantly considering the complete social ruin that is happening around them.
If anything, the entire apocalyptic angle of this film is practically window-dressing. Goodbye World spends its entire running time taking that premise that was promised to us so effectively, and wasting it away. I’m not trying to suggest that it had to be a big-budgeted film. Some of the greatest commentative dramas of our time have been able to take place entirely in one setting (12 Angry Men being the prime example). What Goodbye World lacks is the boldness to actually do something with its ideas, and that should be possible in any scene of any scope so long as the right amount of talent and insight is involved.
Granted, another thing the film lacks is the intelligence to make its points more than just startlingly “easy”. There are rare instances where Goodbye World decides to be more serious-minded, either with the main relationship angle or with the “apocalypse” setting surrounding it, but by the time they come, you almost wish for the breezier tone of its comedic sequences to return. The dialogue’s wit completely evaporates when actual drama befalls the characters’ relationships, with some groan-inducing lines and contrived resolutions to many of their arcs.
As for when the movie actually remembers to be an apocalypse movie, there is the potential for some interesting class commentary when less well-off side-characters start to harass our protagonists because they’re hoarding a bunch of supplies that could easily be shared with the rest of the community; but our “heroes” are never given screentime to question the moral ambiguity of what they’re doing, and it’s almost impossible to sympathize with the other side of the argument when its being led by the most cartoonishly evil military officer in movie history.
And instead of addressing these issues in a manner that really takes time to delve into the nuances and complications from both sides, it’s all resolved with a sickeningly adorable and pat resolution that ties everything in too neat of a bow, culminating in a painfully cheery conclusion that oozes sap and has the look and feel of a Starbucks commercial, which in many ways feels emblematic of what’s so inherently wrong with the film.
Instead of a nuanced, intelligent portrait of how ordinary people handle the ruin of civilization, we get a movie about hipsters just wading through this societal collapse without a care in the world outside of their own self-absorbed issues. We hardly even get a glimpse of what the rest of the world looks like, because apparently the struggles of these very well-to-do white people (and one black guy) are all that seem to matter in Goodbye World‘s universe. It’s a movie that’s more concerned with how ex-fiancees can have a second chance together than it is with their moral standings or how they deal with them.
Goodbye World feigns intelligence from the very first frame, and only continues to squander it as it proceeds, hoping that snappy dialogue and charming performances can allow us to forgive its utter lack of ambition or thought. For a while, it almost works, but dig deep enough and you’ll see that there was nothing of meaning to search for in the first place.