A few weeks back I was at 30 Rockefeller taking in a taping of The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon. (I was writing about the rap group Brockhampton, who were on the show debuting their new single, “Tonya.”) The evening’s first guest was Robert Pattinson, which I was stoked about: Last year Pattinson put in a revelatory, prickly performance in the Safdie brothers’ Good Time, a nightmare crime caper that’s one of the best movies I’ve seen in years. There to plug his new release Damsel, Pattinson was plenty mumbly and charming. Then came SNL star Pete Davidson, and things got even better.
First: Davidson’s fiancée, Ariana Grande, sauntered into the wings of the studio, trailing a crew of aesthetically pleasing people, all of them enjoying lollipops. She mooned over Davidson’s appearance and seemed full of that rare thing: genuine human love.
Second: Davidson was there to promote a Netflix movie called Set It Up but he couldn’t stop talking about Good Time. “What, I’m gonna promote a movie I’m in for ten seconds?!” he told Fallon. “I am here to promote Good Time. It’s the most insane, crazy movie I’ve ever seen.” He waved at Pattinson: “He should have got an Oscar!”
“You brought a clip …” Fallon asked at one point. “I did, I brought a clip from Good Time,” Davidson answered. And then they actually played a clip from Good Time. (It’s the scene right after Pattinson’s character Connie and his brother Nick have robbed a bank. The dye packs have been triggered and they’re covered in the stuff and everything has begun to fall apart and clearly everything will only get worse from here. Great scene.)
Before he wrapped up this virtuosic Tonight Show appearance, I realized Davidson was also wearing a Good Time T-shirt; it’s a photo of Connie and Nick wrapped in a loving embrace under the words “Buon Tempo.” Then, walking out of the studio after Brockhampton’s performance, I chatted with the group’s publicist. He told me that backstage, Brockhampton were freaking out: They, too, deeply loved Good Time.
What the hell was going on here?! Good Time wasn’t exactly an obscurity: It had played at Cannes, was distributed by the beloved A24, and Vulture’s own Emily Yoshida had named it one of her ten favorite films of 2017. It had enjoyed a catchy, off-kilter rollout (it was partially advertised on pizza boxes). But it certainly hadn’t set the world on fire. The box office was a miniscule $2 million and, despite some early chatter for Pattinson’s performance, it didn’t land any major awards.
Post–Davidson’s public ode, I started thinking. Maybe Good Time had fizzled out of the gate, but then, through word of mouth, been embraced and embraced hard; maybe, in the year or so since its release, Good Time had found its audience. Maybe it had become … a cult classic?
Investigating this possibility, I learned the movie had other prominent supporters. When it first came out, Selena Gomez hosted a Q&A with the filmmakers, Josh and Benny Safdie. Perhaps uncoincidentally, around the same time her then-partner the Weeknd tweeted about it:
Turned out lots of regular folks loved it too, many of them enough to make pictures about it.
The fan art …
… is …
… over …
And then I found the cognoscenti were also onboard. Jake Perlin is the artistic director at Metrograph, a lovely repertory theater in Manhattan that’s become a haven for the city’s cinephiles. Perlin had seen Davidson’s ravings and, he told me, felt largely the same way. In fact, about a month after Good Time ended its initial theatrical run, Perlin brought it back at Metrograph with a 35mm print. “Very quickly, we realized that people were coming two or three times,” Perlin said. “We continued running that print for a long time, and that led to that print going to other venues. It proved very successful. It felt like the type of thing where we could just show this once a day forever and it’ll keep attracting audiences.”
Perlin noted that the only other time Metrograph had experienced a similar reaction was with Todd Haynes’s Carol, another movie that’s won a wide-eyed, die-hard fandom. He also added that by last October (meaning just within a few months of Good Time’s release), he saw people on social media dressed up like Connie for Halloween. “I think that’s a marker of how your film has invaded the public consciousness,” Perlin said. “I mean, that’s gotta be a victory for a filmmaker, if people dress up like your characters. You can be Connie or, like, a Teletubbie.”
Mordechai “Mister Mort” Rubinstein, a fashion man-about-town and an old friend of the Safdies, helped do wardrobe for the movie. He recalled seeing Halloween costumes on Instagram, too, but says he was even prouder of getting texts for costume help from his pals. “Like, New York Nico texted me, ‘Where did you get the sweatshirt Connie was wearing?’ I’m like, ‘Dude, if I didn’t buy it off a construction worker’s back, it’s all JC Penney.’” Rubinstein’s theory is that the movie’s aesthetics connected with the audience partially because its wardrobe — lots of uniforms — echoed the workwear trend that’s been rattling through the fashion industry for a bit. “And you know, it’s Queens, it’s timeless, it’s security guards, it’s acid, it’s jail,” he said. “It’s kind of cool.”
Tim League, CEO of the indie chain Alamo Drafthouse, fell in love with the movie when he saw it at Cannes. “I’m a fan of those ’70s, independent, you know, for lack of a better word, exploitation films,” he told me. “A lot of movies try to ape that in a modern context. And this was not that. This was a genuine legacy to those movies of the ’70s.” A lot of Alamo theaters nationwide have already played the 35mm print of Good Time and many of them are planning on bringing it back again this August, after blockbuster season dies down. “We’re listening to our customers,” he says, chuckling, “but we’re also listening to our hearts. And the movie actually performed well in its first run for us. It wasn’t a huge hit for A24, but it certainly worked more in our theaters than it seemed to in the bigger multiplexes.”
As for what made people come see the film again and again, the Metrograph’s Perlin says, “It had a great word of mouth. And it didn’t take a year — it took a few months. I mean, the film was in competition at Cannes, so it’s not like it was unknown. But it’s just so visceral that I think people got really hooked into it really fast. It feels like the type of film that would be someone’s favorite. You just wanna be like, ‘I’ve just seen this incredible movie, you have to see it too.’ And to me, that’s the definition of a cult movie: that people see it multiple times.”
Hearing all this positive Good Time response, I started to worry: Was I just stuck in my own feedback loop? After all, seeing a movie like Good Time find a devoted audience meant seeing my own “good taste” validated. So was I just finding the people I knew would give me the answer I wanted to hear? With so many movies being consumed in so many ways by so many people, can every movie end up being a cult classic for someone?
I emailed Kevin Lincoln, Vulture writer and film maniac (and also my pal), to talk it out — and he made a good point: Good Time can’t really be an old-school cult classic because of the vagaries of the modern system. “Any film that A24 releases is granted a patina of cool right out of the gate, which is very different than an old-school, passing-around-the-bootlegged-copy cult film like, say, Repo Man or El Topo or Primer or whatever,” said Kevin. “Those movies came out of fucking nowhere in a way that feels kind of inconceivable at this point, because the paradox of social media is that you hear more voices than ever before, but they’re all saying and talking about the same exact thing.”
But then again: “I think it’s remarkable when anyone is talking about any movie a year after its release. Thanks, Pete Davidson.”
For the final, final word, I went back to our cult leader himself. In an email, I asked Davidson questions about how he’d fallen in love with Good Time. He wrote back that he’d caught it after its theatrical run “with my pal Joey Gay at my apartment” and loved it right away. “They don’t make movies like this no more. Intense from start to finish. I wasn’t thinking at all [while watching]. That’s the beauty about this film. You escape into the world immediately. I’ve seen it close to 35 times now. I enjoy showing it to people who haven’t seen it yet — if you even know me remotely you’ve seen this film. It’s the most New York film I’ve ever seen. Don’t get more gully than that.”
So is it a cult classic? “It’s a cult classic,” wrote Davidson, “and the best movie ever made.”
For that small Venn diagram slice of people who haven’t seen Good Time yet but have, for some reason, read all of this, it’s not too late to join our cult. You can’t quite get on the same exact level of commitment as the first-wave heads, though: that very rad Good Time shirt Davidson wore on The Tonight Show? It is, at least for now, totally sold out.