Independent filmmaker Julio DePietro wanted to tell a story where first impressions aren't what they seem with his debut as writer and director. So he chose to bookend his relationship drama, The Good Guy, with the same scene: a young, seemingly distraught man, Tommy (played by Friday Night Lights' Scott Porter) comes to the door of his girlfriend (Gilmore Girls' Alexis Bledel) in the rain. He has lost his wallet-- and apparently lost her sometime earlier-- and needs some help. Cutting up to her apartment, we see she has already moved on with a faceless man standing bare-chested behind her. As he pleads, she relents, and brings him some money for the cab with a cold "I feel sorry for you."
"I wanted to show Tommy being the victim," DePietro explains, "and then flashback and show it play out to show how our first impression, just like Beth's first impression, of Tommy can be very misleading."
And if you're watching the film from start to finish without any bias from personal dating experiences, there is a chance you may first see Tommy through Beth's eyes and take him at his word. However, anyone who has ever had even a simple fear that their significant other was keeping a secret can't help but question Porter's crooked smirk and seemingly perfect grand gestures to wonder just what he is hiding. After all, his character of Tommy is a salesman by day in the high-stakes financial game, and when he goes home at night, it is not easy to "switch off" that part of himself.
The most savvy audience members will immediately pick up on all of the little, sometimes not-so-subtle clues to Tommy's personality right off the bat. When Tommy first talks about his so-called ex with Beth, for example, he mentions her name. To some this might just seem like awkward writing, but DePietro is much more calculating and in control than that. In actuality using her name at such an early point in the story just act as a plot device so when we first officially meet her character (buying flowers for an anniversary) we get that feeling of dread that Tommy isn't being honest and upfront with Beth.
The entire film is sprinkled with similar plot devices, which, if you recognize them from the start, do become overkill. One such device is a mention at Beth's book club of "The Good Soldier," a novel by which the director was heavily inspired when penning the screenplay. At this point in the film, Beth has been introduced to Tommy's new co-worker: quiet, shy, noble, and seemingly non-threatening guy Daniel (How To Make It In America's Bryan Greenberg). The camera stays on him as she explains that the book is about a quiet and seemingly non-threatening solider who is ultimately an unreliable narrator because he lies about his adultery, misleading the audience briefly by causing them to think twice about just what skeletons he may have lurking. Unfortunately, though there are later hints of this as well, Daniel never gets fleshed-out to the point where we see how he is "too good to be true." While this then leaves room for a sequel, it mostly feels like the hints were just more lies to mislead the audience. There is nothing deep or dark about Daniel, but the filmmaker wanted to throw the audience off the scent of Tommy for a second and make them a little bit paranoid about every guy.
DePietro further borrows this exact narrative notion, though, by having Porter's Tommy "introduce" himself through voice over narration just after that first "in the rain" scene. Porter himself admits that "If you go back and watch the film a second time, you will go 'Oh. Oh yeah, he's selling'...It's kind of his swagger, but he has to be the man in every situation and has to 'win' every situation. Tommy has kind of a problem; it's like an odd addiction."
DePietro, who briefly studied film at NYU, always knew he wanted to set and shoot this story in New York City, and he got very lucky in that his main cast, though not natives, all spent a good chunk of time in the city themselves. Porter feels this element is important to add to the authenticity of their performances. "There's certain things that New York has-- an energy and a speed of life-- that you don't get anywhere else," he explains.
The energy and speed are certainly depicted in The Good Guy when it comes to the professional world Tommy-- and then Daniel-- find themselves in. Dealing in stocks and trading on the floor in a major financial company is a "sink or swim" industry, and to be truly successful one not only has to be fast-talking and confident but also shrewd and unrelenting. A lot of the overall style of the film is a throwback to the stylistic choices of American Psycho: high-end and flashy beauty to hide the true ugliness of one's soul. A metaphor for how the guys have to be in the dating world in big cities like New York or Los Angeles? Considering that, it adds yet another layer to the way one would watch this film.
"I think you could easily say that the guys in the film who are on Wall Street, that you know guys like that in the film business here in LA or in any sort of business. This movie is set in the backdrop of Wall Street, but it's not [really] specific to them." This might be why DePietro hasn't found the switch from the finance to the film world all that difficult. After all he says he "always wanted to write. I have never had any interest in finance; I never even took introductory economics in college. But I had a lot of student loans to pay off, and that was where I ended up."
While the cast and crew loved shooting at the Cloisters and the financial district boat harbor, which DePietro says he doesn't think many know is even there, the director also makes it a point to note that he was "very careful about the interiors: they don't just look like the places that these people would go to...they're the actual places." For DePietro, it is all about realism and creating a world that his audience can easily feel like they are in.
But the film is funny, too-- perhaps funnier than one might expect from a piece about betrayal and the unraveling of a man who, on the surface, appeared to have achieved the American Dream. Much of the comedy comes from Daniel's early awkwardness, when he is seemingly not quite comfortable in his own skin. He is somewhat dorky and definitely conservative-- a different type for Greenberg, who often plays artists, extensions of himself-- but when he spends time with Beth, he loosens up, calms down, and is able to just be. It's a nice juxtaposition to the fast-talking salesman he is becoming at work. The further humor in the film comes from the friends of our leads (portrayed brilliantly by Aaron Yoo and Jessalyn Wanlim, as well as Andrew McCarthy's sleazy boss Cash, who, in less capable hands, would have just come across as a tragic figure).
"I think the movie is a very real portrayal of this world. Beth is a romantic, and ultimately she is rewarded for that, but it's also sort of a cautionary tale. If you're overly naive and trusting, there's a lot of pitfalls out there...I think everyone gets what they deserve...[and that's] hopeful but realistic," DePietro explains.
Bledel said she wanted to do the film because it read as a "modern love story" and her character felt "very real...The things that she wants in her life are not hard to imagine: she wants someone to spend time with; she wants to meet a great guy; she wants to enjoy her work; and [those] are the things that everybody wants."
DePietro admits that Bledel had the toughest role in the film because she "had to have chemistry with both guys at different points in the film," despite knowing right off the bat who was the titular "good" guy and who was going to break her character's heart. But what he was asking Bledel to do with his character is what he is ultimately asking his audience to do: take the journey with both guys and see where it lands you, even if parts of it are painful. After all, that's what love-- and life-- is truly about.
The Good Guy opens on Friday, February 19th. Check your local listings.