Tuesday, March 8, 2011

On DVD: "Every Day"

Every Day
marks the feature film debut of writer/director Richard Levine, best known previously as a writer, director, and producer for the TV show Nip/Tuck. His main character, Ned (Liev Schreiber) is a writer for a provocative television series called “Mercy Medical’; several scenes of the film take place in the writer’s room for that series, where his boss Garrett (Eddie Izzard) reprimands Ned for not making his scripts edgy enough. He demands that each episode have at least five “shocking moments”—you know, like anal or bestiality or incest. This is not the most thickly-veiled autobiography I’ve seen. But there’s more happening here than a game of connect-the-dots; Every Day, while enjoyable, feels very much like the work of a writer/director best known for slick, well-made television.

We meet Ned as he is on the verge of a midlife crisis. His 19-year marriage to Jeannie (Helen Hunt) is at a crossroads—she’s unhappy and uninterested in sex, and is moving her bitter, dying father (Brian Dennehy) into their home. He has a good relationship with his young son Ethan (Skyler Forgang), but he’s having some trouble coping with his 15-year-old son Jonah (Ezra Miller), who recently came out. At work, Garrett’s arbitrary demands for more sex and scandal in his writing are killing him, and on top of all that, he’s got the hots for a co-worker (Carla Gugino).

For the most part, the picture is fast and funny; Levine directs with a smooth, unassuming style, and his script has plenty of good lines. But that script too often falls into the snappy-patter rhythms of a sitcom—the dialogue a little too clean and polished, everyone a beat too quick with a witty rejoinder. He’s dealing with messy lives here, with depression and adultery and sexual dissatisfaction and sickness and disconnection, but it all feels completely under control. The blow-ups and climactic events all arrive as if timed for commercials. (The less-than-subtle construction might not be so apparent if the pushy score didn’t keep editorializing on everything.)

The movie’s main draw is Schreiber, who seems incapable of a false note—he’s good with Forgang (their scenes have a nice, relaxed tone) and particularly with Miller (the tricky dynamic of the gay son and the father who’s cool-but-not-quite-as-cool-as-he-thinks-with-it is rich and well-mined here). He’s believable to the detriment of Hunt, whose acting has become mannered and false; her timing is fine and her neurosis is palpable, but there’s something rote and synthetic about her work here. Gugino isn’t given much to play beyond approachably sexy –though no one does it better—and once Levine gets to the pay-off of her storyline, he’s so unsure of what the hell to do with it that he resorts to having her ex-boyfriend show up and sock Ned in the eye, and the scene just kind of withers and dies. But Dennehy finds some fresh notes to play deep inside his potentially-tired character, and the film makes the most of Izzard’s jittery energy.

Levine shows potential as a filmmaker. The picture has its pleasures—there’s a workable energy to it, a skill to the way he deftly intermingles simultaneous scenes of sexuality and anxiety. And he appears to have a good sense of assembling ensemble acting (though putting Gugino’s sparky persona into the Hunt role would have made it an infinitely more interesting picture). As soon as he gets the TV out of his blood, he might really be on to something.

"Every Day" hits DVD and Blu-ray today.

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