Feel Good Full Movie review – “Good” might be too simple a word to cover all the feelings swirling around this six-episode emotional broth.
Comedian Mae Martin drew on elements of her own life to create a comedy drama that ruminates on addiction, relationships, and stand-up. Like her character, she was kicked out of her home as a teenager because of her cocaine use, eventually moving from Toronto to London and going through rehab. And like her character, she’s capable of being very funny about all of it.
Martin and co-writer Joe Hampson take a deceptively light approach at first, introducing us to love interest George (played by Charlotte Ritchie), who develops an awkward, tender romance with Mae despite having never dated a woman before. Soon the two are moving in together, but cracks begin to show when Mae’s past addiction is discovered by a still-closeted George.
Martin is not the first comedian to get her own semi-autobiographical sitcom, and aspects of Feel Good’s plot might seem familiar. But there is plenty that sets it apart. For one thing, the sense of humour shines in its weird, innovative use of language. Mae describes herself as looking like a “kernel of corn”, and George is compared to a “dangerous Mary Poppins” and a “cocker spaniel”.
The characters’ conversations about sex are also refreshingly frank. Mae’s complicated relationship with her identity aren’t watered down for a mainstream audience – she can just admit “I’m feeling bad about my gender”, without any clichéd explanation or neat conclusion. Even the weird roommate – an archetype, sure – is warmer and more specific in his eccentricities than we might usually expect, at one point giving George a bucket of worms instead of a therapy dog.
Mae’s Narcotics Anonymous group, meanwhile, is a circle of flawed individuals, rather than some miraculous solution. Sophie Thompson is Mae’s sponsor, Maggie, who in one scene justifies the glass of champagne in her hand by saying, “Drugs are drugs and we mustn’t touch them. Alcohol is… British.” She’s charming, but has her own issues – namely her estranged daughter, Lava (yes, Lava), played with deadpan charisma by Ritu Arya.
Fraught parental relationships abound. Lisa Kudrow is caustic and hilarious as Mae’s mother, waspishly reminding her daughter of her previous failed relationships. An episode involving a trip to Blackpool brings unspoken tension to the surface, and gives us the gift of seeing Kudrow venting her frustration on the arcades.
While Kudrow’s talent is a given, Martin is a quiet revelation. Her twitchy body language – she doesn’t know where to put her hands when she’s sleeping, or how to stand at a party of George’s almost unbearably awful friends – gives away a thrumming undercurrent of anxiety.
In the face of all their issues, Mae and George attempt to fight their way towards something like healthy communication. Moments of quiet happiness are hard-won and sandwiched between conflict. Both have their own baggage to wrestle with, after all, and no idea how to combine it.
The actors’ natural chemistry keeps the struggle from being exhausting. George and Mae share a language of sorts – they understand each other’s sense of humour instinctively – so you end up rooting for this sweet, weird couple just as much as you worry for them.
Perhaps most impressive, though, is how generously Feel Good captures the flaws and strengths of its supporting cast. Mae has the ongoing revelation that other people are the protagonist of their own stories – that no one is as straightforward as they appear, or as invulnerable. The series is sympathetic to its lead, but never minimises the damage Mae’s issues can inflict on the people around her.
After all, this is a show about breaking patterns. Mae wrestles with her drug addiction, as well as her obsessive approach to love. George is leaving behind a lifetime of privileged heterosexuality, and an identity she never questioned. And nearly all of the characters are in the process of breaking down emotional walls.
That’s what ultimately gives the series its heart: everyone is just trying their best. Whether their aim is to stay sober, rebuild trust with a parent, or successfully tell a joke, this is a world of very earnest people failing and getting back up again.
And sincere emotion can be a lot more difficult than detached irony – as this thoughtful, hilarious series proves. The journey to feeling good is messy.