What does grief look like between friends? Between past lovers? Within a chosen family?
These questions come to a head in Good Grief, Dan Levy’s feature film directorial debut. The Schitt’s Creek creator wrote, directed, and starred in the movie as Marc, a man reeling from the death of his husband. Despite (or because) of this premise, Good Grief is just as much about friendship as it is grief: On the anniversary of his husband’s death, Marc takes his two best friends, played by Ruth Negga and Himesh Patel, on a weekend getaway to Paris, where their strength as a trio is put to the rest.
At a screening and Q&A in New York City ahead of the film’s premiere, the lead trio of Levy, Negga, and Patel pulled back the curtain on what Good Grief means to them. For Levy, the movie’s focus on friendship reflects the idea of found family, a dynamic prevalent in the queer community.
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“I’ve been single a long time. And when you are unpartnered, there’s a family that’s created around friendship,” Levy said. “I think within the LGBTQ community too, friends are such a necessary part of a healing process. They’re part of safety. They’re part of championing each other.”
“We’ve seen it in television to an extent, but I haven’t really seen a lot of adult friendships explored as the focal point of a movie before,” Levy continued. “And that felt like a conversation that deserves to be explored in a major way, and not just living on the sidelines of a movie as the witty, quippy, interesting characters that you never really get to know.”
Indeed, those “interesting characters” are front and center in Good Grief. Negga as Sophie is a spitfire masking her vulnerability with humor and brass, while Patel as Thomas is a hapless romantic, his true feelings always bubbling under the surface.
The trio of Levy, Negga, and Patel carry Good Grief, both as individuals and as a unit of three. We watch them revel in the good times and help to hold one another together through the throes of grief. They laugh and luxuriate in the streets of Paris before taking each other to task for their failures as friends. Their relationships are messy, lived-in, and familiar: it’s a level of realism that Levy gave thought to even before filming began, scheduling two weeks of rehearsal just for cast bonding.
“We spent those two weeks really just talking about everything from relationships to grief to love,” Levy said — though the cast and crew engaged in more than conversation to get to know one another. Along with their director of photography and assistant director, the film’s central trio tackled an escape room together.
“To me, the intimacy not just between actors, but actors and crew in this particular case, was really important,” Levy explained. “I wanted our key cast to understand and have an intimacy with the people that they would be interacting with from a crew side every day so that the actual experience of being on set, aside from our own camaraderie, was also comfortable and intimate already walking into it.”
It’s all a matter of timing.
Dan Levy, Ruth Negga, and Himesh Patel chat about their first impressions of each other and how cathartic ‘Good Grief’ was for each of them.
Now having created their own artistic depiction of loss, each of the film’s leads reflected on a formative piece of media that taught them about grief. For Levy, it was Cinema Paradiso, an Italian drama that he says had him out-of-control crying by the credits. For Patel, it was The Lion King — and who among us hasn’t shed a tear for Mufasa? And for Negga, it was the poem “Funeral Blues” by W. H. Auden, famous for its appearance in Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Where Good Grief differs from those classics is in its unabashed queerness, not only in the identities of its lead characters or the people behind the scenes, but in the rarely seen nuances of queer love and friendships it brings to the screen. This is especially true for Marc’s complex feelings toward his late husband, whose devotion wasn’t as straightforward as it seemed at first glance. Particularly resonant, too, is the relationship between Marc and Thomas, former lovers who became longtime friends.
“Certainly, I had enough personal experience to write both sides of that,” Levy said of writing the dynamic between them. “It just felt like life, really. It felt like my life and my friends’ lives. That’s all you can really draw from.”♦
Good Grief is now streaming on Netflix.
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