Here is a western that is hard to pin down. An odd little comedy that is as dry as the Kiwi grasslands and perhaps as infertile. It has spectacular New Zealand vistas filling in for John Ford’s Monument Valley, but diverges wildly from any sort of Hollywood (or Italian) formula by making sexual impotence the driving force of the story. With unlikeliness as the byword – a charming rape-romance? – Good For Nothing boldly has its anti-hero, billed only as The Man, voice his first line of dialogue, “My dick’s broke.” My Darling Clementine this ain’t, but the film is not without a slew of eccentric charms.
The film opens with a train crawling across the barren landscape. Now, trains can be surely act as a metaphor for anything in the movies. In the western, specifically, they usually stand in progress or civilization or change, here perhaps the intimation is decidedly phallic. I’m getting ahead of myself. On the train is Isabella Montgomery, a well heeled but feisty English-woman who is being reluctantly handed off by her chaperone to her Uncle’s men charged with escorting her to the isolated estate where she is to, presumably, make a life. A less than wise rest stop at a seedy bar for a whiskey (water for the lady) quickly devolves into a triple murder with the killer kidnapping Isabella for a “poke” in the woods. She resists, he can’t get it up and the film tips its hand of cards and lands somewhere between a comedy of manners and the pathology of Stockholm Syndrome.
As they wander around the wilderness, a dysfunctional Bonnie & Clyde, he is looking for a medicine man (Chinese, Native American, whatever works) to have his ‘soldier stand to attention,’ while she tries to escape. The Man spits and grunts like an uncouth savage, while Isabella is stripped down to her corset & undies and tied to the pommel of his saddle like any other piece of survival gear. With each violent encounter (yes, those medicine men), her white skirts get shorter as she binds wounds, both hers and his, with the fabric. The increasing exposure in the unrelenting heat merely makes Isabella’s skin gently perspire in the desert sun. Good For Nothing is hardly the bodice-ripping romance novel that the last sentence implies. It can be cruel at times, showing off an alarming number of head shots and penetrating wounds – The writer/director, Mike Wallis, was one of the Weta-Wizards on Lord of the Rings, King Kong and Avatar – but the film is never without a droll (nearly imperceptible) wink at its own over-ripe silliness. The film brims with subtle innuendo. A strange cocktail that is not at all camp, but more along the lines of the most restrained screwball comedy ever made. An equally impotent, or rather, incompetent posse is also after the couple – mistakenly thinking that Isabella is the Man’s accomplice and whore – the cutaway to the hunters provides more comic relief before the film ‘climaxes’ in its own jolly-good brand or moral relativism. The penis is tamed but not broken and the lady stands tall, looking into the distance in with her hair blowing in the breeze. Maybe it is a romance after all.
Good For Nothing opens theatrically in New York today, March 9th.