Goodbye, Don Glees! (Review) – A Competent, If Predictable, Adolescent Drama

DIRECTOR: Atsuko Ishizuka

CAST (ENGLISH VERSION): Adam McArthur, Nick Wolfhard, Jonathan Leon, Victoria Grace, Stephanie Sheh, Alan Lee

CAST (JAPANESE VERSION): Natsuki Hanae, Yuki Kaji, Ayumu Murase, Kana Hanazawa, Rino Sashihara, Atsushi Tamura

RUNNING TIME: 94 mins

CERTIFICATE: 12A

BASICALLY…: A group of young misfits go on an adventure together…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

With Summering completely and utterly failing to capture the basic essentials for even an above-average coming-of-age movie, it’s down to Japan once again to show us how it’s all done. That being said, while Goodbye, Don Glees! might not be an immediate classic that’s right up there with the likes of Stand By Me or The Goonies, it is at least a decent enough example that puts the other new such movie firmly to shame.

For one, this anime flick from debut director Atsuko Ishizuka has actual distinct characters, an actual plot, actual stakes, and perhaps most importantly a script that actually feels like you could come across these kinds of people in real life, without feeling like a cynical and frightfully out-of-touch voice misguiding some very unrealistic constructs. Again, that doesn’t necessarily make Goodbye, Don Glees! a great movie, but it does at least make it a movie, unlike whatever they were going for with Summering.

The film focuses on a small group of teen outcasts, namely Rōma (voiced by Adam McArthur in the English dub, and by Natsuki Hanae in the original Japanese) and Toto (Nick Wolfhard/Yuki Kaji) who as children formed a special club called the “Don Glees”, and went on a number of adventures together until their academic studies got in the way. The newest member of their exclusive club is Drop (Jonathan Leon/Ayumu Murase), who convinces the others to buy a drone in order to get a good view of the nearby fireworks – but soon, a forest fire erupts and the Don Glees get blamed for it. To clear their names, the three friends decide to venture deep into the woods to find their lost drone and retrieve its footage, but as they get further into their journey, some tragic revelations between them threaten to tear them apart for good.

In some cases, it’s easy to spot where the film is eventually headed, particularly with a few of its characters. The moment that one of them mentions an extended stay in a certain place, you can practically hear the sound of their fate being sealed; meanwhile, as another frets and obsesses over their studies while sticking loosely to a stick-in-the-mud personality, you can near-correctly predict where their arc is going to end up. While the film may not exactly be unpredictable, it is thoughtful in how it handles some burning questions about adolescence that its young leads, and maybe even some similarly aged members of its audience, frequently ask each other. Ishizuka, who also wrote the script, allows for a sensitive tone that makes some of the tougher decisions feel easier to swallow, but without sacrificing their emotional weight in the moment for the sake of a tonally misplaced juvenile gag. There’s definitely some of that throughout – one scene involves the leads pranking their fellow students by all-too convincingly dressing up as attractive girls – but they don’t ever get in the way of the underlying drama, especially as the film moves closer towards a bittersweet and surprisingly effective conclusion.

Of course, the film boasts some gorgeous animation – provided by Japanese anime studio Madhouse, who previously worked on the likes of Tokyo Godfathers, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars, Paprika and many others – which expressively captures the stunning scenery and the tender emotions of its characters. It also isn’t afraid to get pretty bizarre at times, most notably when the film completely stops to do a big musical number set to “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, which despite the context given (it’s a song they were taught as kids to learn the English language) still comes out of nowhere to completely bewilder the viewer. However, while Goodbye, Don Glees! does manage to pull off its own brand of charm amidst the brief confusion, it’s a bit more of a drag because it is easy to pinpoint where most things are going, and at times you’re left waiting for said plot beat to show up and get it over with rather than really getting involved with most of the action and drama.

It’s not a solid movie, but when it works it can be a tender and at times moving look at childhood friendships and what happens to them when they start growing up. There’s some fine material here that’s at the very least worth a singular viewing, and depending on your taste for bittersweet endings you might even leave it with a small lump in your throat, but don’t be too quick to put Goodbye, Don Glees! right up there with classic coming-of-age tales just yet – however, feel free to rank it way above Summering, which is made to look even more foolish by comparison to something like this.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Goodbye, Don Glees! is a decent enough coming-of-age movie that features some fun and entertainingly bizarre moments, plenty of gorgeous animation, and a number of tender and bittersweet reflections on childhood, but a predictable script makes some of its well-intentioned moments feel a little too drawn out to leave more of a lasting impact.

Goodbye, Don Glees! is now showing in cinemas nationwide – click here to find a screening near you!

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