Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time and/or has aged like a fine wine.
This week we’ll be looking at GO!
THE STORY: Over the course of one Christmas Eve, a disparate group of twenty-somethings deal with drug deals gone wrong, touchy-feely cops, bad drugs trips, angry gangsters, dead-end minimum wage jobs and a whole lot of angst.
THE PLAYERS: Starring: Katie Holmes, Sarah Polley, Timothy Olyphant, Scott Wolf, Jay Mohr, Taye Diggs, and William Fichtner. Directed by Doug Liman.
We were a strange movie because we were an indie film, and then right before we started filming, Columbia bought us out. We were in pre-production and about to start shooting and our foreign financing fell out because we didn’t have a bankable white male star. At that point, though, we had a cast that was already really exciting. Katie Holmes wasn’t a star, but everyone thought she might become a star. Scott Wolf was a star. People were excited about Sarah Polley. We had a really electric young cast, and Columbia — God bless them — came in and said, “Sure. Let’s make this movie.” – John August Interview – Huffington Post (2014)
THE HISTORY: In the late nineties, youth movies, as well as the burgeoning indie scene, were starting to come together. Labels like Miramax were putting out teen fare like SHE’S ALL THAT, and big studios were starting to get into the game, with Paramount launching an MTV Films label and Sony Pictures ponying up money to make teen pics like CAN’T HARDLY WAIT and IDLE HANDS. Enter director Doug Liman and screenwriter John August, who somehow managed to push this dark, slice-of-life indie comedy through the mainstream studio process, in part thanks to the canny casting of hip, of-the-moment actors like Katie Holmes and Scott Wolf.
The result, sadly, was a mere $16 million gross, although this can be explained by the fact that GO opened just two weeks after THE MATRIX (coincidently, the film celebrates its 20th anniversary this week). If teen audiences were going to flock to one movie, that was going to be the one. Luckily, when this hit VHS/Cable and the then-nascent DVD format, GO took on something of a cult following. Among those that have actually seen it, GO is fondly remembered.
Sony has two labels, Tri-Star and Columbia Pictures. Originally we were Tri-Star, which was the younger and hipper label. But at some point when we were editing, they sent over the Columbia Pictures logo, which has been on some of the great movies of all time. My editor was like, “oh my god we’re going to ruin 100 years of Columbia Pictures history with Go.” We have no business having such a regal logo. So we immediately started fucking with it. – Doug Liman –NOW Magazine Interview (2019)
WHY IT’S GREAT: GO is an interesting outlier in director Doug Liman’s career. Shot after SWINGERS, you can see it’s him trying to bridge the hip indie world with a more commercial vibe, but the movie is chockfull of the indie aesthetic, making it one of the least “studio” flavored movies of the era. Other than the pricey soundtrack (which featured Len’s massive hit, “Steal My Sunshine”) and the uniformly attractive cast of hip nineties actors, you’d never figure this was a mainstream studio movie with a $20 million budget (which goes a lot further now than it did then).
I remember seeing the trailers for GO back in ’99 and assuming this would be just another teen flick, mostly due to Katie Holmes, then riding high on “Dawson’s Creek” being pitched like the star (although if the ensemble has a real lead, it’s Sarah Polley). I never even considered going to see it in theaters, even though back then, as a sixteen-year-old, I went to see everything (even MGM’s awful indie-flavored reboot of THE MOD SQUAD which came out a week earlier).
I finally caught up with GO on cable about a year later, and I was totally blown away by the film’s combustible energy and manic pace. From the first frame to the last, Liman’s film is utterly propulsive, no easy feat considering the fact that the focus is split between four inter-connected stories. There’s not a weak link among them, with only Holmes’s infatuation with Timothy Olyphant’s dreamy drug dealer coming close to the teen fantasy it was marketed as, but even this comes to an unexpected resolution.
I really, really didn’t want to be in the public eye. I really didn’t want to have any kind of fame. I was really stressed about the idea of being in a movie that was being pushed to be out there. At that age, that was my real phobia. – Sarah Polley – NOW Magazine Interview (2019)
The cast, while filled with a lot of actors whose careers petered out at the end of the decade, is uniformly excellent. Sarah Polley anchors the film as the rebellious supermarket cashier who ill-advisedly tries to sell a little ecstasy to make rent. This should have made her a star (although that wasn’t something Polley every really wanted). Tons of actors that became huge later turn up, including Taye Diggs and in a tiny role, a young Melissa McCarthy, while the soundtrack is a terrific 1999-time capsule.
BEST SCENE: If anyone who’s seen GO were to pick their favorite moment, I’d wager a good ninety percent of them would just reply “drug cat”. This is a great, throwaway gag where Nathan Bexton’s Manny, while tripping balls, starts to hallucinate that Tim Olyphant’s cat can read his thoughts and, most disturbingly, make dire predictions about his future.
SEE IT: GO is available on DVD/Blu-ray, Digital and several streaming services, including Sony’s Crackle if you want to watch it for free.
PARTING SHOT: While there’s no doubt that GO is a total nineties nostalgia piece at this point, to me it belongs up there with the best indie flicks of the era. It’s the equal of almost anything produced at the mini-indie giants like Miramax and New Line, and a movie I’m fond of returning to every couple of years. Check it out!