ND/NF 2011 Review: SOME DAYS ARE BETTER THAN OTHERS
The most resonant conceit in
Some Days Are Better Than Others, its main conceptual takeaway,
is clever in a way that transcends cleverness and gives off a whiff
of zeitgeist-stalking: these days auditioning for Reality TV can be
a very big deal, as if life itself has become so degraded, so lacking
in actual vitality that we must aspire to being normal and "real"...
and aren't even sure if we can pull that off. Partly it's
the times themselves that are to blame--the lackluster economy, the
inability of forced wistfulness or corporate assurances to keep profound
despair or grief at bay, and an inexplicably pervasive feeling of ephemerality.
At its most ambitious, then, Some Days Are Better Than Others
fixes its target well beyond the belly button lint of its mumblecore
brethren and intimates that it will take on juicier, worthier targets.
The problem, however, is that
writer-director Matt McCormick eventually takes that idea of life-imitating-media
and milks it for easy, crowd-pleasing satire. While well executed in
their own right, these scenes are not only jarring tonally, but also
possibly display a lack of awareness on McCormick's part of his film's
very real strengths. Indeed, its central character ("protagonist"
would imply too great a degree of agency) is not the one with
the Reality TV jones. That would be Katrina, who watches note-perfect
send-ups of The Bachelor, designs cute headgear from stuffed
animals, and emits a vulnerable indie-vibe that's so earnest and adorable
that you don't know whether you should fall in love with her or be
sick to your stomach. Of course one doesn't expect a grand dramatic
arc or earth-shaking events from a modest, poetry-in-the-everyday film
like Some Days Are Better Than Others. However, the script freights
Katrina--played winningly by musician Carrie Brownstein--with too
much highly conventional comedic and emotional baggage, and then narratively
asks her to swim in relatively shallow waters. She suffers heartache,
but its handling is startling close to formulaic in a film that otherwise
goes out of its way to celebrate the idiosyncratic. By the time Katrina
comes to realize something important about the falseness of the TV gods
she's been worshipping, we're several steps ahead of her and awaiting
a touch of the unexpected that never comes.
The true center of the film
is barely-employed Eli, played by James Mercer of The Shins fame in
a performance that's even more impressive than Brownstein's (to
be fair, he's given more to do). More often than not, when the film
follows Eli it works on the levels of humor, pathos, and just plain
ol' closely-observed details about interesting stuff--filmmaking,
art, straight men falling in love with lesbians, and so on. When it
shifts to focus on the other characters, however, its ideas feel exposed
in awkward ways; this feeling becomes more pronounced as we near the
ending, which shows how these disparate residents of Portland OR are
connected in ways that we've either seen coming or just don't care
much about. Yes, it feels far too ungenerous to call Some Days Are
Better Than Others a slacker version of Iñárritu in this respect,
but the film itself leaves one little choice.
On the positive side, there's almost always something interesting to notice in Some Days Are Better Than Others, whether it's the subtly playful production design, disarming dialogue, or the effective musical score. But by its final third, the film seems to run out of inner energy and, worse still, McCormick makes the parallels between the different storylines explicit, just in case you didn't catch them. Kudos to a talent with the creativity to establish such parallels in the first place, but I guess there's a reason why this fest is called "New Directors/New Films": here's hoping that in subsequent films McCormick trusts his audiences to an extent that's comparable to the way he's earned theirs.
Screening dates at ND/NF: