A one-time rock star now reduced to scoring commercials for former bandmate Simon Pegg, Martin Freeman doesn't usually sleep so well. He wants to stay up and read, but girlfriend Gwyneth Paltrow likes to turn the light off early. But one night, Freeman slips into a dream in which mysterious beauty Penélope Cruz begins to tell him everything he's ever wanted to hear. He'd like to have that kind of dream more often, so before long, he's putting up foam to keep out noise and sunlight. It may drive his girlfriend away, but with such sweet dreams, who cares?
The feature debut of writer-director Jake Paltrow (Gwyneth's brother), The Good Night has a blazingly obvious point to make about the way dreams can drain the joy from our waking lives. To its credit, it takes a circuitous route in making it. Freeman and Paltrow punish each other as they quarrel and pace a small apartment dominated by a large, deceptively inviting bed. This Scenes From A Marriage routine gives way to dream sequences recalling Federico Fellini at his most erotic. It's little wonder that Freeman wants to keep dreaming, even though the film gives him an unlikely Virgil to the dreamland underworld, in the form of lucid-dreaming expert Danny DeVito.
Paltrow has a pleasing visual sense, whether in dreams or in real life, and his script plays with some intriguing ideas, but none of the pieces ever fully fit together. Pegg (best known for Hot Fuzz and Shaun Of The Dead) and Freeman (from the UK version of The Office) are about as convincing in playing former rock stars as they would be playing astronauts. As the embodiment of a more realistic version of true love, a dowdied-up Gwyneth Paltrow overplays the part. She's more castrating than pragmatic, calling Freeman a "fucked-up person" for jerking off in the bathroom in one scene, then trying to dictate the schedule for his bowel movements in another. The tone is all over the place, too. Off-the-cuff comedic moments (like DeVito dismissing children as "horrible adults in tiny bodies") give way to jarring moments of high seriousness. But the film never fully commits to either. (Also, anyone who can explain why Jarvis Cocker shows up for pseudo-documentary segments throughout should get a free copy of Pulp's His 'N' Hers.) Either way, it's too pretentious—or not nearly pretentious enough.