In Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare writes: “Everyone can master a grief but he who has it.” This summarizes the plot of Heather de Michelle’s film As Good as You (2015). The audience watches the protagonist Jo (Laura Heisler) attempt to master her grief after the death of her wife Amanda. Her friends offer support, but she proceeds to alienate them, one by one, until she is forced to reconcile her past with her present.
The opening shot shows a close-up of an hourglass being used during a fun-filled Boggle game. Jo and her friend Lisa (Anna Fitzwater) comically banter about the legitimacy of a word, while Jo’s wife Amanda interacts, unseen, from the kitchen. Their friend Nate (Raoul Bhaneja) arrives and joins in the festivities, complimenting Jo on her Slate article that is getting published. All is right in Jo’s world. When Amanda is suddenly silent, Jo walks to the kitchen to investigate. A close-up shows a plethora of emotion: disbelief, sadness, fear. She awakes from this dream and goes to the now empty kitchen, contemplating her now empty life. This will be the first of many dream or flashback sequences for Jo.
In the next scene, forty-one-year-old Jo rises from a half-made bed, going through her daily routine of temperature taking, vitamin popping, and yoga posing… and crying. Then, pregnancy book by her side and pillow stuffed in her shirt, she rubs her simulated pregnant belly. The beginning of Jo’s character arc is established at this point when the audience learns of her desire to be a mother and her inability to overcome the intense grief after the death of her wife. These scenes in Jo’s home are well lit, with natural light pouring in the many windows, and it offers a stark contrast to the darkness that resides in her heart.
On the other hand, Lisa’s dingy bar is dimly lit with high-key lighting. The mise-en-scene is reflective of Lisa’s personality: rough and edgy. Punk music blares and liquor and vintage albums line the muted gray brick walls, but it is a safe haven for Jo because Lisa is there. They seem to be total opposites, yet their friendship works. Fitzwater’s Lisa is brash and sarcastic, but she balances out the character with moments of tenderness, especially with Jo. Meanwhile, Heisler is convincing as a grief-stricken woman. She spends much of the movie sobbing, weeping, or outright bawling, or looking as if she is right on the verge of doing so. Attentive cinematography by de Michele efficiently captures her despair with lingering close-ups, letting the audience experience the anguish that oozes from Jo. Heisler displays a vulnerability that melts the thorny exterior of Fitzwater’s Lisa. Her patience is tested, however, when Jo tells her about her plan to have a baby with Amanda’s brother, Jamie (Bryan Dechart).
In a well-crafted scene, Jamie and Jo meet with a psychologist, whom they hope will sign off on their plan. The scene begins with a close-up of a calculating Dr. Laura Berg (Annie Potts), then pulls out to reveal them sitting across from her. The next shot is very illuminating in that the audience sees Jo and Jamie sitting on opposite sides of a red leather couch, figuratively in the hot-seat, as they prepare for their session. Behind them is a wall-sized photograph of a rope bridge that leads to nowhere. Fragile, unreliable, naïve, raw. Words that could also be used to describe the Jo that Heisler has created. Visually, Potts is symmetrically positioned between two windows and creative editing adds both urgency and comic relief during the interview, accentuating the slew of rapid-fire questions and answers that shoot from their mouths. Reeling from her interview, Jo turns to booze and sex; First with Lisa, and then with Nate a few days later. They both hope that it means their friendship with Jo is turning into something else, but for Jo, it just a distraction from the pain.
The recurring theme of making peace with the past continues when a defeated Jo stares out at the ocean after sleeping with Nate. Her beach view dissolves into a close-up of her face as she attends Amanda’s memorial. One of the guests plays acoustic guitar and sings a hauntingly beautiful song that continues over a variety of flashback scenes from that day, giving insight into many of the characters’ motivations. The song continues until Jo comes back to the present and scurries out of Nate’s house. She’s on the painful journey to healing, but it will take the snubbing of Lisa and Nate to give her a kick-start that she needs. In the end, Jo makes amends, but decides to go to Berkeley, Amanda’s hometown. It’s there that Jo hopes to “feel” Amanda and find the things she’s lost. She leaves with a heavy heart, but with a ray of hope that she will once again find happiness.
As Good as You is loosely based on writer Gretchen Michelfeld’s life. She and Heather de Michele collaborated to make this film because they noticed that the challenges of lesbian pregnancy had never been tackled onscreen before. This film not only explores this sensitive topic, but it also seeks to shed light on how grief is a personal journey that is unique to every individual. With the patience of friends, family, and sweet time, a person can one day anticipate being whole again after losing the love of her life. In other words, it’s possible for grief to be managed, but not ever mastered.
Kim Carr is a film studies major at University of North Carolina Wilmington, where she hopes to eventually get her graduate degree. She enjoys watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, and writing screenplays for her own movies, which may one day be shown “at a theater near you.”
As Good as You (2015)
Director Heather de Michele
Runtime 85 minutes
As Good as You is available on iTunes: https://geo.itunes.apple.com/us/movie/as-good-as-you/id1238074755?mt=6&at=11l7mn