Sifting Through Netflix: “Nice Guy Johnny” is Not So Nice!

Sifting Through Netflix is a new feature where we drop a few thoughts on films that are available to anyone with access to a Netflix Instant account. Because let’s be real, how hard is it to figure out what’s worth your time on there? So save your time, and hear what we have to say first!

“You ever slept on the beach?”

“I’m not really a sleep on the beach kind of guy.”

“…you could be.”

I’ll be the first one to admit, indie romantic dramadies are sort of my shtick. Give me a romantic but realistic film that is funny, smart, and still dramatic with none of the ooey gooey stuff that ruins too many modern romantic comedies, and I will probably be obsessed. I love “(500) Days of Summer”, and “Like Crazy” is literally one of my favorite movies in recent history. So when I originally saw the trailer for “Nice Guy Johnny”, I grew very excited:

You’ve got a pretty girl, you’ve got the beach in the Hamptons during summertime, you’ve got what appears to be a smart nice guy as the lead and what just might be charming conversation within a genuine heart-to-heart. What can go wrong? Well, a lot can go wrong when a trailer leaves out basically the entire plot.

Johnny is a sports radio talk-show host with the graveyard shift at a station in the middle of nowhere. He’s engaged (not to the girl in the trailer) and he goes to New York for the weekend because he promised his wife to be that once they turned 25 the would try and get a real job. “Real job” to his perpetually cranky and oppressive fiancee means having her father set him up with an interview to be a floor manager for some company that handles boxes, or something equally as dream-killing. Everybody knows that Johnny doesn’t want to do it, but he made a promise and he’s just that nice! “I gave my word!” he says. But we all know he’s miserable for it. To try and lighten the mood, his womanizing madman of an uncle forces Johnny to accompany him to the Hamptons for a weekend of revelry before the life-ending interview on Monday.

The initial set up of “Nice Guy Johnny” is a lot like the classic “Sideways” but with none of its charm, wit, or depth. You take your stereotypical a-hole womanizer (Johnny’s uncle) and you pair him up with a nice, thoughtful, but inevitably miserable do-gooder (the eponymous Nice Guy Johnny). It’s the classic, life altering bro road trip (“broad trip”, if you will). Of course, even though Johnny has a fiancee, his uncle does his best to hook him up with a random girl. Enter the beautiful Brooke, as seen in the trailer.

In “Sideways” you had the more likely combo of forced college roommates that somehow stayed friends, but in “Johnny” you’ve got a dopey kid hanging out with an uncle that he obviously kind of despises? I just don’t buy it. How many people hang out with their uncles to begin with? Or am I the weird one here?

I like the star of the film, Matt Bush, in a supporting role, a la as Fredo from “Adventureland”. He was the hysterical sidekick type there and filled in the role perfectly. Paul Giammatti, as awkward-looking as he is, has the superb acting chops to carry a somewhat miserable movie about a nice guy inevitably finishing last (another “Sideways” reference – there will be more). But Matt Bush simply does not, which might be just due to poor character development. Or maybe it’s just because he’s so much shorter than everyone else? I don’t know!

Now for the character of Nice Guy Johnny himself: he is not a real person. He never would be. I don’t know who wrote this screenplay, but it clearly came from some daydream they had where they imagined some one-dimensional character who barely grows throughout the course of the movie. Johnny is a Nice Guy to a tea, to a literally unbelievable, unbending extent. As Liam pointed out to me once, there are basically 3 different scenes on repeat throughout the movie: Johnny arguing with his fiancee, Johnny bickering with his uncle about moral behavior, and Johnny avoiding the blatant advances of Brooke. Very seldom are you watching something enjoyable happen. Johnny struggles to please everyone at the expense of his own integrity and happiness. He constantly shoots his uncle down and does his best to avoid any sort of fun that he views as immoral, or that he thinks his fiancee might frown at (i.e., everything). And when he meets a girl whom he genuinely falls in love with, a girl that inspires him to follow his dreams rather than give them up, what does he do? He walks away. Because he’s nice. The kid is blindly, arrogantly, stubbornly, perfectly, boringly “nice” throughout the entire movie, and it’s hard not to hate him for it. It’s not even because I’m jealous or anything; it’s just that he is not real. I was pleading throughout the movie for him to just bend a little bit, to mess up and make a mistake just for the sake of learning that to try and be perfect is to succeed at being perfectly miserable.

I do consider myself a nice guy. James from “Adventureland” is a nice guy. Giamatti’s character in “Sideways” is a nice guy. But the three of us are real, well-rounded people who make mistakes. And you know what? We are better for it. It’s what makes “Adventureland” and “Sideways” great movies, and it’s what makes me an actual human being. We admit what we want, we go for it, and even if it doesn’t pan out at least we tried. We’ve got the guts to try and do stupid stuff because we are human. But Nice Guy Johnny? He is robot, a short little robot sent from the future to be a wet blanket.

The real defining moment in this movie comes when Johnny’s uncle picks him up at the beach and Johnny has to say goodbye to Brooke, perhaps for good. She asks to give him her number and he shoots her down. This midget punk shuts down the blonde bombshell. In a way, he’s totally boss. But he’s also dumb as a doorknob. Then before he and his uncle pull out of the parking lot, Uncle D-Bag stops the truck and says something like, “Dude, I’m a D-Bag and even I can tell that this girl is in love with you. You shouldn’t just walk away from this. If there’s even a chance that you think she’s it, then you need to go for it.” I remember thinking to myself in that moment: this is where this movie is either going to seriously fail and become downright bad. Or maybe, just maybe, it will turn around and surprise me with something great. Dry off that wet blanket and surprise me, Johnny. Admit that you’re fiancee isn’t right for you, that you don’t want to give up on your dreams. Jump out of that truck and chase down the girl that you’re madly in love with. Run back to that beach and kiss the living daylights out of her. End curtain. Take a chance, no matter how afraid you are that it might be the “wrong choice”. Be a human being.

I won’t tell you what actually happens, but I will tell you that there wasn’t a whole lot that I enjoyed about this movie. Maybe my expectations were way too high? Maybe it was because I made a lot of assumptions based on the trailer and the awesome music in it. The message of the movie winds up being: “Never give up on your dreams. Always be nice. Everything will work out, but only if you stick to those first two things 110%.” Sure, it sounds great on paper and it works in most Disney movies, but it would make a better story if Johnny doesn’t get a happy ending at all, or if Johnny makes a mistake, learns from it, and then earns a happy ending. Like I said before, I want my realism in these indie romantic dramadies!

I gave this one 2 out of 5 stars, for poor camera work, Johnny’s wet-blanket-ness, and a lack of character development.