First-time feature director Jake Paltrow explores the line between dreams and reality in The Good Night, which had its premiere at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. Gary Sheller (Martin Freeman), a British ex-pop star living in New York City, is stuck in a stagnant relationship with his long-term girlfriend, Dora (Gwyneth Paltrow). Gary's relationship with Dora is adrift in a sea of ambivalence, and he feels Dora doesn't support him emotionally . Gary and Dora live in the same apartment, share the same bed, but there might as well be an ocean between them; the bridge of communication seems to have long since shut down. Meanwhile, Gary's best friend and former bandmate Paul (Simon Pegg) works for an ad agency and has become Gary's boss, while Gary is relegated to writing jingles that "sound like 'Cheers'."
Then one night, Gary dreams of Anna (Penélope Cruz), a strikingly beautiful woman who exists for the sole purpose of telling Gary how wonderful he is, encouraging him in his music, and fulfilling his sexual fantasies. The trouble is, Gary finds himself more and more not wanting to leave the dream state where he can be with Anna. She makes him feel better about himself, and he finds that he wants to be with her all the time. He seeks out lucid dreaming "expert" Mel (Danny DeVito), who teaches Gary how to enter his dream world any time he wants. But how can Gary ever hope to save his relationship with Dora if he lives more and more in his dreams?Cruz plays dual roles in the film: Anna, the dream embodiment of Gary's "perfect woman," and Melody, a real-life model whose face Gary has seen plastered on the sides of buses. Melody is a real and imperfect woman, and when Gary has an opportunity to get to know the living embodiment of his fantasy dream-woman, his own neuroses rise to the surface. It doesn't help that Paul, freshly broken-up with his own wife, is also attracted to Melody.
The Good Night looks at the line between our dream lives and our real lives and asks what might happen when a person finds their dream life more satisfying than reality. It's also about the untenable search for perfection, and our human tendency to never be satisfied with what we have. Gary's real relationship with Dora has been tainted by all the imperfections that we cannot help but show each other when we live in close proximity over a period of time. Dora has to share bathroom space with Gary, she sees his dirty socks and underwear on the floor, she knows how his hair looks and his breath smells first thing in the morning, she knows the dreams he has given up and how unhappy he is with where he is in his career. Gary's dream woman, Anna, neither knows nor cares about any of these things, because, like any fantasy, she exists solely for the purpose of pleasing him.
There's something inherently attractive in the idea of having a "relationship" where the other person never questions you, never wants their own needs met, and always builds you up and tells you how perfect and wonderful you are. Some people seek out those kind of ego-boosting semi-relationships through the internet, where it's easier for people to conceal their imperfections and to mold their interactions to paint a picture of a perfect, supportive relationship, even if it isn't "real." Others, like Gary, create these fantasy relationships in their dreams.
The pacing does drag a bit, once we hit the halfway mark of the film, and a little tightening of those slower scenes would help keep the rhythm and flow of the film more consistent. Jake Paltrow's script is clever, though, and the ideas he's trying to explore are interesting. The film is bolstered by some solid performances. DeVito tones down his manic energy level here to create in Mel a character with a softer side, a guy who, as he says in the film, is just a "schlub from Astoria." Like Gary, Mel prefers living in his dreams, but even within a world of his own creation, he still seeks unattainable perfection. Freeman and Pegg, who are real-life friends, bring their natural wit and banter to their roles, and the back-and-forth dialogue between them creates some of the funniest moments in the film.
Gywneth Paltrow, who seems to be gravitating toward those darker roles of late, is excellent as moody, unhappy Dora. Dora is not a bad person, she doesn't hate Gary, she's just, like him, an imperfect person in a relationship that seems to be going nowhere. A lot of women in their late 20s or early 30s will relate to Dora's character and to her frustration with the relationship; she's invested over seven years with Gary and they've passed that point at which they should have either married or split up. Now what? When you've put that much time into a relationship there comes a point where, if it's not going anywhere, it's time to cut loose and move on. Dora and Gary handle this relationship crossroads in different ways -- Gary by turning inward and Dora by moving outward, but at the heart of things they're really just two people trying to figure out what they want and what might make them happy.