The Boy saw an ad for this movie a month or so ago and said, very animatedly, “There’s this new movie coming out with John Goodman trapped in a fallout shelter with two other people, who I can only assume he eats!” We’ve been looking forward to this movie ever since, even though the subsequent trailers made him a little leerier. (Less is more sometimes, trailer people!)
And so it came to pass that 10 Cloverfield Lane was “the movie where John Goodman eats people” with us and the Flower taking bets on how many people he would eat, and what manner their consumption would take place.
It’s not really a fat joke, though in the Goodman cycle of weight-gain and loss, he does seem to be on the heavier end of a cycle here, it’s that (around here) he’s a beloved actor of many big roles. Of course, Walter Sobchak, but also in Barton Fink, Inside Llewyn Davis, O Brother Where Art Thou? and Raising Arizona, Monsters Inc. and Monsters University, The Artist, The Emperor’s New Groove, Death Sentence, not to mention Serpunt from a “King of the Hill” episode and Robot Santa on “Futurama”. Hell, we’ll even throw in Revenge of the Nerds. (My kids are barely aware that “Roseanne” was a thing.)
The thing about Mr. Goodman is that he is both instantly recognizable (visually and aurally) and amazingly versatile as an actor. He can be lovable hardworking dude (Sully in Monsters, Inc.) or an utter maniac (the Cyclops in O Brother!), or he can switch between (Charlie Meadows in Barton Fink). And even when the maniac switch is toggled, there’s a lot of nuance there, like the brainless Coach Harris (Revenge of the Nerds) versus the cold-blooded killer of Death Sentence.
And this is a very, very important aspect of 10 Cloverfield Lane. The story—and I’m going to be vague here to avoid any sort of spoilers—is that Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, A Good Day To Die Hard, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) wakes up in a bomb shelter owned and operated by Howard (Goodman). She doesn’t know quite how she got there, but she knows that Howard’s story doesn’t add up, and she’s dubious about his very sketchy end-of-the-world story.
Howard is not quite right, we can all see. For one thing, he built this extensive bomb shelter. And mightn’t someone that obsessed with the end of the world delude themselves into thinking it happened? His only backup for this story is the non-too-bright Emmet (John Gallagher Jr., Short Term 12, Pieces of April) who doesn’t seem to be someone who’s word you’d prefer to trust on such a big topic.
So, here we are. Two guys and a gal trapped in a small area at the end of the world. Sure, we’ve seen it a million times before, but we’ve never seen it with John Goodman.
There’s only a few ways a story like this can go. But what this movie does well is keep you off-balance. Certain things confirm Howard’s story. But even being right doesn’t mean you’re not crazy. So Michelle has to keep on her guard while not getting killed whether by Howard or the threats that may or may not be outdoors. It’s particularly refreshing to have a female lead in this situation whose actions are smart, resourceful and largely believable.
There’s a third act tonal shift that surprised the crap out of us. This is not the end, but imagine if Michelle found out Howard was lying about the end of the world, but that he did it because he loved her from afar, and the movie shifted into a romantic montage of them walking on the beach, playing at amusement parks, and getting married with Emmett as the best man.
That would be slightly more extreme than the tonal shift the movie actually takes.
It’s a little goofy. But as The Boy pointed out, if you don’t want to see the same things over and over again, you have to broaden your horizons about what’s acceptable. You have to be able to switch gears. I liked it, myself, but it was shocking.
Anyway, a very tight film overall. Really great performances from the three principles. Good directorial debut for Dan Trachtenberg. Nice score from Bear McCreary (“The Walking Dead”, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”). Definitely worth watching: The Boy and The Flower both gave it a thumbs up.