The teasingly but misleadingly entitled “Good Dick” is an annoying example of self-therapy posing as art. Unedifyingly dealing with deep psychological issues that should have been addressed on a psychiatrist’s couch instead of at the Sundance Lab, where the script was developed, first feature by writer-director-producer-star Marianna Palka spends nearly its full running time displaying a creepy DVD store geek trying to wear down the sexual and emotional resistance of a cloistered young woman burdened by an unspecified psycho-sexual trauma. Offering scant narrative relief from the continual assault of one obstinate person upon another, pic will have difficulty connecting with viewers other than those who share the characters’ afflictions.
An indication of Palka’s determination to withhold any background information about her characters is her pretentious refusal to even bestow them with names — end credits simply leave a blank space next to her and costar Jason Ritter’s names.
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The two meet moderately cute when Palka, who somewhat resembles a sturdier Nastasja Kinski with deep circles under her eyes, rents some porn DVDs from immediately smitten clerk Ritter at West Los Angeles’ celebrated specialist shop Cinefile. Following her to her apartment, Ritter peers through the blinds in her living room to get a partial glimpse of her pleasuring herself while watching a film.
Relentlessly stalking the woman, the maladroit youngster, who’s not bad looking but sleeps in his car, is the kind of guy almost any woman would avoid. But he soon gains entry to her place with a sob story and is willing to put up with endless put-downs and humiliations from the nasty-mouthed woman in order to prolong and, he hopes, advance their relationship.
She does give in slightly to his encroachments, allowing him to sleep on her couch, then in her bed as long as only their backs touch. In the only direct allusion to pic’s title, she makes a wager about his penis size but, after he wins, belittles him mercilessly.
The pair’s dynamic has a classic sado-masochistic aspect, yet Palka seems oblivious to it, seeming more interested in the gargantuan effort it takes the man to chip away at the heavy defenses the woman has constructed in reaction to whatever hurt her and now disallows intimacy. The Rosebud here is suggested when Palka visits her businessman dad (Tom Arnold), but the scene is not satisfactorily worked out.
Momentary relief from the one-on-one scenes, which are all enacted in the woman’s bland modern apartment, is intended by interchanges among Ritter and his scruffy co-workers at Cinefile, but Palka’s writing isn’t nearly sharp enough to bring out the alternately comic and poignant flavors she seeks. An almost unrecognizable Charles Durning and Bryce Dallas Howard appear briefly as store customers.
The sort of film that makes you want to tell all the characters to get a life, “Good Dick” features an energetic and vaguely promising perf by Ritter and adequate production values, although the frequent use of mild rock refrains on the soundtrack grows monotonous.