Starring: Matt Bush, Kerry Bishé, Edward Burns
Written and Directed by: Edward Burns
Going into Nice Guy Johnny, I didn’t really have any idea what to expect. Despite the fact I know Edward Burns exists, and that some people probably love his work, our paths haven’t crossed many times; in fact the last thing I remember really seeing him in substantially was 2004’s A Sound of Thunder and the less said about that trainwreck the better. But that’s the beauty of Watch Instantly; like a video store, it allows you to sift through thousands of titles that you’ve never even heard of before, allowing you the chance to discover something new. Nice Guy Johnny became one of these movies, an impulse watch due to a bout of insomnia and an abundance of time. After finishing it up, I’m on the fence about it: on one hand, it’s a competent movie that has a good story but is ultimately forgettable, but on the other hand it resonated with me emotionally in a way that I didn’t expect. Which path do I choose when going through the process of reviewing this? More importantly, how pissed off are you that this review has started off with me talking about myself? Let’s break it down and find out.
Nice Guy Johnny stars Matt Bush as Johnny Rizzo, a transplant from New York who hosts a late night sports show on a local Oakland area radio station late at night. Unfortunately, his passion isn’t bringing in the dough and his fiance Claire (Anna Wood) is pushing him to accept a regular day job that’ll pay the bills and provide for their future family. With a job interview on Monday, Johnny heads back to New York and reconnects with his Uncle Terry (Edward Burns, pulling triple duty on this flick), who tends bar and sleeps with as many women as he can. Terry thinks that Johnny is too young to get married (he’s 24) and convinces him to come with him to the Hamptons for the weekend with the intent of getting him a weekend fling that’ll hopefully get him to rethink where his life is going. Johnny, being the ultimate nice guy (I know, it’s shocking considering the movie title), wants nothing to do with it. That is of course until he meets Brooke (Kerry Bishé), the recent college graduate who is in the Hamptons for a summer teaching tennis. Sparks fly, life lessons get taught, Edward Burns gets to say the funny lines he wrote.
The overall message of Nice Guy Johnny is “follow your passion, not expectation” and as someone in the main character’s same exact age group, it resonated with me and with my personal pursuits as a writer. Yes there are jobs that can make me more money, but are they fulfilling? Hell no. Why do what’s expected, get married, get a stuffy desk job, when something still excites you enough to want to do for your career? I read somewhere that the gestation of the plot came from Burns’ own struggles wanting to make independent movies vs. studio flicks, but that struggle is universal and can be placed anywhere and he puts in a very relatable context. I saw a lot of myself in the character of Johnny Rizzo, and this helped me like the movie more than I would have otherwise.
Outside of bringing personal baggage in, Nice Guy Johnny itself isn’t a bad movie. Burns has written a good script filled with good dialogue and character interactions, especially between Rizzo and Uncle Terry. They make a good duo. The acting itself is on the whole damn good with each person bringing realism to their characters, increasing the relatability I talked about earlier, with Bush and Bishé especially feeling like people you would see talking on the street.
Coicidentally, or maybe not so much, the most engaging character of Nice Guy Johnny happens to be Uncle Terry who is played by Burns, the man who wrote and directed it. It’s completely understandable why he gave himself the role; Uncle Terry is just a fun character to watch, cavalier about everything and always with a one-liner. He’s the comedic relief of Nice Guy Johnny which despite the fact there isn’t too much melodrama, it isn’t really that much of a comedy either. It’s like turning a camera on reality and seeing what happens.
There are a few issues to be found in Nice Guy Johnny that detract from the experience. First, despite how real the situation and the characters felt, the fiance character Claire is way over the top. In movies if you need to break up a couple, the situation needs to be clear enough that it was supposed to happen or the audience will turn on it. If the fiance is a peach and the main character who you are supposed to rally behind dumps her anyway, there goes your entire movie. Burns took that a little too seriously, as Claire is a comically overbearing shrew always telling Johnny what to do with his life and jumping to conclusions and acting like a bitch to the point where you scream “I GET IT, SHE SUCKS!” at the screen. There are brief moments where she is shown as human, but her character took me out of the movie at times. The soundtrack itself is also the type of laid back stuff that you come to expect from indie movies about love and finding yourself, so be prepared for that.
Nice Guy Johnny is also a movie that won’t really stick in your mind after you see it. Yes I related to aspects, but will I continually watch it over the years? Not really. Its realistic nature is definitely a benefit and I like Burns’ intent, but there are enough cliches and slow parts to keep it from being something truly memorable. That’s not to say it’s bad, it’s just there but it won’t be a terrible experience should people stumble upon it.
Overall, I liked Nice Guy Johnny; the acting was good, the dialogue and script were solid, and it had some really good performances (especially by Burns himself). While some may latch onto the message, others may just be bored as it lacks any real solid jokes and gets more cliched as the running time comes to an end. Still for a 24 year old who’s contemplating the same things the main character is, I can’t lie and say it didn’t affect me; it just didn’t in a more memorable capacity.