Indie Spotlight, Reviews — June 29, 2012 at 10:35 am

INDIE SPOTLIGHT: GOOD VIRUS

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Good Virus PosterI’ve always believed that if we treated each other the way we want to be treated, we’d more or less have paradise on Earth. 2011’s Good Virus is too pleasant to treat harshly, too well-made to dismiss, and too brief to wear out its welcome. This 68-minute documentary is about the idea that people should try to fill the world around them with positivity, and how much that would help everyone.

GV takes time to address all of its ideas, though some are covered in brief: What do people think “nice” means? What does a kind act give to someone else, or the wolrd around them? What does a kind act give to the person who does it? Why do we do kind things? And are there non-emotional reasons for doing something good for others?

I guess I may be a semi-perfect audience member for this sort of picture. I’m not a social activist, but I find these ideas interesting; I’m excited by how these concepts can apply to health, politics, psychology, philosophy, and society itself. And, fortunately, the experience deserved my interest.

The movie is straight-forward and mature, but also (intentionally) silly and light-hearted in a way that matches its subject. It does a good job of presenting those questions, and I was impressed that it handles scientific discussions in a way that’s both smart and simple. In the end, I have a flattering complaint to write: I wish Good Virus was a longer film with a more focused structure, and that it took most of its points farther (and trimmed one or two down).

These complaints are easy to make because the filmmakers, including director David Gaz, clearly knew what they were doing. This picture looks beautiful, and has many well-designed effects and moments. It’s good to have scientists explain that you can see how connected people are by analyzing games and social networks, how people who do the most for others receive the most support… But it seldom feels like the writers wrote out the argument they wanted to make, then made sure that the film expressed that argument, step by step, fleshing out its points throughout the running time.

Good Virus on the street

Chane’t Johnson cheering up the city

These problems didn’t register too stongly with me until I rewound my review screener and realized that people are defining “nice” from the opening to the very end. That choice does not come off as intentional circularity – like the brief “we got married” stories in When Harry Met Sally; nor does it feel like there’s a strong stylistic choice to keep that one part of the discussion going at the end. As a result the movie’s thesis is weaker because it covers old ground – with the later interviews not shedding new light on the ones we’ve already seen.

Early on, the movie discusses an event I’d heard of before – how a group of 1960’s African schoolgirls started having fits of unstoppable laughter, and how this weird phenomena spread to thousands of people in their country. This is an excellent demonstration of how emotion can spread, but there should have been more details in this story. Worst of all, more examples should have been used. How about dancing plagues (I sh#t you not), hysterical contagion, or other recorded group emotional illnesses?…

Similarly, GV should have had a section where it described a real-life cascade of “good deeds,” where one person’s generosity led to dozens of others following in their wake. I know these sorts of things have occurred, and the film should have discussed them. Hell, it should have talked about the origin of “charities” and how they can change neighborhoods, lives, etc. For a documentary with such a broad range and scope, this picture often sticks to smaller cases and individual behavior; it’s a good point, as every act starts small, with one man or woman, but still…

Interview Subjects

The many interviewees of GV

Those one-on-one interviews were very good, however. They felt honest and fresh, and the subjects conveyed what it was like to give up a kidney to a neighbor, or receive a massive present from someone they helped with no thought of reward… I liked the roller-derby women best, of course; they were motivated by intelligence and kindness in giving back to the community that would otherwise just be the place where they earn cash…

It is easier to raise these complaints because so much of Good Virus is finely-made. It’s not just that scientific ideas are well-explained, the cinematography is simply gorgeous. Every frame of the movie looks pretty, well-designed, and well-composed. It’s a shame that producer Chane’t Johnson passed away in 2010, and did not live to see the completion of the film.

I found GV to be an interesting movie with an important message; it takes a lot of maturity and respect to make such a gentle movie (gentle, like Jim Henson). I only wish there were more material here, and more of a driving argument that would promote generosity and grace the same way that so many people promote self-interest. In a world where my friends are reading The Ethical Slut so they can explain away and justify their basic desires, I’m happy that this film came my way. You can find out more about this movement and this picture at the Good Virus website; check out their blog for some good stories…

♥♥♥

This motion picture was submitted for review to Man, I Love Films. Any filmmaker that would like their picture to be reviewed by the site should contact Dylan Fields (dylan@manilovefilms.com) and Kai Parker (kai@manilovefilms.com) with details about their picture and how they will send in their submission.

2 Comments

  • I just had to read this when I saw the poster, and now I want to see it badly!
    I think there is some truth in the films apparent message, so I mostly try to be nice to people – and often it works. But sometimes you just don’t have the energy.

  • Thanks! It’s definitely an interesting movie with a great idea.

    Many studies show that being happy is good for your health. Even forgetting that, I believe that confident people tend to be happier, and put positivity into the world around them. I just wish the movie showed this even more…

    It’s not always easy, but there are many internal/external rewards and things to gain from it. Watch the movie and let me know what you think!

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