PARK CITY, UTAH – JANUARY 21: (L–R) India Donaldson and Lily Collias at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival “Good One” premiere at The Ray Theatre. (Photo by Suzanne Cordeiro/Shutterstock for Sundance Film Festival)
By Annie Lyons
“I feel like as a teenager, I never had the words that I wanted in the moment that they were needed. I found them later,” shares India Donaldson at the January 21 premiere of her feature debut Good One at The Ray Theatre in Park City, Utah.
That idea comes to a rocky head in the filmmaker’s intimately nuanced coming-of-age story. Screening in the U.S. Dramatic Competition section at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, the film charts an uncomfortable weekend camping trip in the Catskill Mountains that ultimately becomes a turning point for 17-year-old Sam (Lily Collias). The teenager has an affinity for the outdoors and dutifully prepares for the long hike with her dad Chris (James Le Gros) and his oldest friend Matt (Danny McCarthy), a volatile recent divorcee. But when Matt’s son refuses to accompany him on the morning of the trip, the group dynamic shifts into something more thorny.
The two adult men clearly don’t have much in common anymore. Stuck in the awkward middle, Sam tries her best to keep the peace, from acting as her dad’s secretary when work problems come up to cooking dinner for the trio. Contrasting the men’s competitive behavior against the surrounding verdant beauty, Donaldson carefully builds up tension until, perhaps inevitably, Sam reaches her limit after one boundary crossed too far.
During the film’s post-premiere discussion, the writer-director explains, “I was definitely tapping into my own memories of being that age and the way that I was in the world, and just how so often as a young girl, you’re put in a position of servicing other people’s needs. That was my way into the character.”
Though Sam has little dialogue, an exceptional performance by Collias immerses the audience closely in the character’s perspective. As Sam reckons with the shortcomings of her father and the gaps in their communication, the actor showcases her shifting perceptions with astonishing subtlety. “For Sam, because it’s so internal, I wrote a lot of diary entries as her and kind of just what’s going through her mind, because everything is always up there, and she doesn’t like to let it out,” Collias says. “I thought maybe that would be a way for her to let things out.”
Praising her lead, Donaldson explains how she turned to another teenager for advice during the casting process. “We’d been looking for our Sam for some time, and I have a younger sister, Octavia, who is the same age as the character. I asked her one day if she knew any actors, and that is how I met Lily,” Donaldson says. “Lily put herself on tape for us. I was incredibly moved and blown away. But it felt too good to be true. And I sent the tape to [our casting director Taylor Williams] and Taylor called me immediately — and we fact-checked our shared memory last night — Taylor told me she in her whole career had never ever seen a tape that good.”
When asked about the movie’s title, the filmmaker references a scene when Matt, upset over his son taking his ex-wife’s side, remarks to Chris how he raised a “good one” with Sam. She elaborates, “In writing the film, I was thinking about what it means to be a good kid — to not ruffle feathers and to do what your parents want you to do and the price you pay [and] what you have to sacrifice by not acting out.”
Donaldson smiles. “I think that there’s a lot to be gained from rebelling.”
To see more from the 2024 Festival, click here.