Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Review of Every Day

Gee, we're barely a month into 2011 and we already have a contender for the year's worst movie. Oh, happy day! Happy to see Carla Gugino get work, though. She's a nice lady.

This review was previously published in ICON and is reprinted with permission. (Thanks, Trina)

Every Day (now playing in a few cities and On Demand) is about a family going through a rough patch, something many filmmakers, writers, and grandparents have shared with us before. In fact, the topic has been explored so many times that writer/director Richard Levine builds the story not on a body of fresh experiences but on common assumptions and memories of movies past. Every Day feels as safe and familiar as your favorite blanket, so much so that you'll have trouble staying awake.

The film, set mostly in leafy suburban New York, offers several characters with vaguely defined problems. Ned (Liev Schreiber) is a television writer floundering at his show, thanks to a boss (Eddie Izzard) who equates titillation with creativity. Ned's wife, Jeannie (Helen Hunt), feels overwhelmed balancing family, career, and now the demands of their new housemate—her cantankerous, wheelchair-bound father (Brian Dennehy). Combined with a lengthy marriage, two kids (one an openly gay teen played by Ezra Miller), and chaotic lives, husband and wife are showing strain.

And they're barely amorous, a sure sign that their marriage is dying. Dennehy's crankiness, plus a couple of big speeches, is supposed to tell us volumes about his life and relationship with his annoyed daughter. The gay son's impatience suggests that he wants to explore his own sexuality. Levine (previously a writer and executive producer on TV's Nip/Tuck) works in this kind of shorthand throughout Every Day. It's not a bad idea, but there's no support. As a director, Levine has zero visual flair; I've seen commercials for laundry detergent filmed with more artistry. His characters are either bland or caricatures. Pity Carla Gugino, as Schreiber's seductive co-worker, who spends most of the movie either in a bikini or using recreational drugs. It's a role so transparent in its bohemian, let-loose intentions that she's as sexy as a stage direction.

Gugino isn't the only cast member trapped by their role. Schreiber, Dennehy, and Oscar winner Hunt are solid actors given nothing to work with but scuffed clich├ęs and long faces. Levine presents three or four storylines—none of which involve Jeannie and Ned's other mop-headed kid—to test our interest, almost like he's easing into a warm bath, before withdrawing. Perspectives get moved around like chess pieces. Is it a family drama about getting older or a mid-life crisis comedy? Is it a skewering of the television industry? Why do four characters need such immense problems? Can Levine stick to a style or a viewpoint before the credits roll?

The answer to the last question is no, but the ending suggests that we should appreciate these abruptly ended storylines as the snapshot of a frayed family. If that's the case, then why offer a conventional story arc with conventional problems featuring conventional characters? Why let good actors go to waste? Levine's noncommittal directorial style is a constant annoyance, but his open-ended conclusion is downright shifty, bestowing the movie with a serious restraint that it doesn't deserve. An ending should cement a movie's reputation, not serve as a last-ditch plea for legitimacy.

Moviegoers should spend the entirety of Every Day futilely searching for something worthwhile: a challenging character, a problem with teeth, an emotion they've felt outside of an episode of 7th Heaven. This movie is not about the poetry of everyday life or ordinary people adjusting to life's wave of woes. It's 93 minutes of waiting for something, anything to happen. That's life, I guess. [R]

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