There are at least two films with this title, one being a recent young adult romantic fantasy. The one I’m writing about here is the 2010 indie dramedy about a screenwriter and his family starring Liev Schreiber and Helen Hunt.
I don’t know that there’s anything to particularly dislike about Every Day, and in most respects it seems to be a competent film about significant human issues that I care about, but somehow it never connected with me more than modestly.
There’s something vaguely generic about it. I mean, the description of it on the Sundance Now website (which is where I viewed it)—“Every Day is about one family’s struggle to survive the unexpected curve-balls that are simply part of real life. It’s an uncompromising look at an ordinary family making an extraordinary journey towards themselves and towards each other”—sounds like a parody of a description of a typical, overly earnest, indie film.
But it’s really not a bad movie, and I didn’t dislike it per se. I just feel like maybe I should have liked it more than I did.
I don’t know if maybe my reaction was affected by this family—contrary to the above description—really not being an “ordinary” family. Sure, they and some of the issues they’re facing are ordinary in some respects, but these are white professionals of the economic top 10% if not top 1%, with a dad who works as a big shot television writer. I felt like maybe it was assumed that an audience would naturally be drawn in by a story of the “beautiful people,” but I suspect I would have found a different sort of family more relatable or more intriguing.
Also, although in the end I suppose most or all of the characters are sympathetic to a degree, I found something to dislike about just about all of them. I didn’t warm to them as much as I might have.
Anyway, let me say more about some of the specifics of the film.
Ned is a screenwriter, currently working on I think one of those cable or Netflix-style TV series or mini-series—some kind of scandalous, titillating, soap opera type thing with lots of offbeat characters and weird sex. A “guilty pleasure” show. His boss is a flamboyantly gay dictatorial sort who barks out orders in a hyper confident manner, always driving his writers to push the boundaries into more and more outrageous areas. (He’s played in an over-the-top style by Eddie Izzard, and while you can make the case that the character’s therefore unrealistic if not an offensive stereotype of a bitchy queen, he mostly didn’t rub me the wrong way. I found him more entertaining than not.)
Ned’s father-in-law, a bitter old fellow in failing health who is constantly complaining, criticizing, or making quips about welcoming death (a more consistently negative, misanthropic, unpleasant version of On Golden Pond’s Norman Thayer), comes to live with him and his family, due to a lack of other options. Taking care of the old man, and dealing with his bullshit, falls mostly to Ned’s wife Jeannie.
One of Ned and Jeannie’s children is a teenager named Jonah who has recently come out as gay.
Ned is less than thrilled with his job, the kind of writing it requires of him, and the way the boss treats his writers. The presence of his father-in-law in the house is a downer, especially insofar as it brings down Jeannie and makes her less responsive to her husband and more unpleasant in general herself. He has not fully processed this idea of his son being gay, doesn’t know if he should react to dating and sex issues the same as if Jonah were a straight son, a straight daughter, or neither, isn’t sure to what extent to keep his son’s sexuality secret or to mention it to people and if so which people and how to tell them, and maybe isn’t sure his homosexuality is fully real or permanent rather than a phase or something reversible.
So he’s kind of off balance, unsatisfied, and confused in general. It’s a midlife crisis I suppose, where he has that feeling that this isn’t the life he thought he signed up for, and he’s unsure what he needs to do to accept it, change it, or escape from it.
He gets seduced into an affair, or at least the beginnings of an affair, by sexy coworker Robin. Robin is a temptress who represents to him all the things he’s missing in his day-to-day life and marriage. She’s all about sex, drugs, using wealth and the material enhancements it brings for immediate gratification, living in the moment, tossing aside all inhibitions, guilt, hesitancy, anxiety about consequences, etc. She’s an opportunity to escape all that’s troubling him, an opportunity to lose himself in getting high and fucking in her swanky penthouse, and to put everything else out of his mind—the unsatisfying job, the overbearing boss, the increasingly shrewish wife, the curmudgeonly father-in-law, the gay son.
When he hints around to Jeannie that his needs aren’t being met in their relationship, and that he misses how it felt when maybe there was more romance, more magic, more time for each other, etc., she is utterly unsympathetic, telling him in no uncertain terms that this is the way real life is, and that after she spends her day trying to parent, to run a home, and to clean up the bodily fluids of someone who was always more of a shitty father to her than not, and she gets berated rather than appreciated by him in the process, the last thing she needs to hear is that her husband’s life is not as idyllic as he has somehow decided he’s entitled for it to be.
Thus the contrast is established even more starkly between the emotional difficulties and dissatisfactions of his life, and this escape opportunity into the fantasy world of his would-be mistress.
But when you get right down to it, there’s something creepy, phony, and off-putting about his co-worker Robin. She’s like some siren or mythological figure who creates the illusion of happiness, of sexual chemistry, of thrills, just long enough to suck you in and get you to abandon yourself, only to find out to your detriment that it was all a ruse.
Except worse than that, you sense that she herself is a victim of her own phoniness, of the façade she has created.
She’s one of those people who is really aggressive and judgmental in her hedonism. She wants to be like the girl who spins in Steve Martin’s LA Story—an appealingly youthful, spontaneous, openly sexual, genuine, lover of life—but she’s not, because that girl was happy with herself in a way that Robin isn’t.
Robin is a middle-aged woman who is pathetically trying to hold onto something from her youth, who is unwilling or unable to achieve any kind of deep human connection that requires risk, commitment, or tradeoffs, who hides the emptiness of her life from herself by throwing herself into superficial materialistic and sexual pleasures and by staying drunk or stoned as much as possible, and, crucially, who needs others to share and endorse the illusion for it to work.
That’s what I find distasteful about someone like her. Not just that she pursues a partying lifestyle that I don’t care for, but that she looks down on anyone who doesn’t, that she is dismissive of people who aren’t live-for-the-moment hedonists as repressed fools who won’t let themselves be happy and is bothered by their being so, when in fact if anything she is more trapped in a dead end, meaningless, unhappy existence than Ned or most folks. And when that reality flashes through here and there—like in the scene when her lowlife ex-boyfriend intrudes on an encounter with Ned—you see her tense up and display a bitchy side that gives the lie to this notion of her being the free spirit happily unencumbered by human entanglements and consequences.
I’m not saying I wouldn’t be tempted at all. She’s reasonably hot, maybe even very hot for someone who is pushing 40 (at least that’s how old the actress—Carla Gugino—was when the movie was made). But my reaction to what she represents is about 10% “let me lift you up to this higher level of uninhibited bliss” and 90% “let me drag you down to this lower level of grim, futile attempts to keep reality at bay and hide from the meaninglessness, irresponsibility, and failures of our lives in a temporary fog of drugs and alcohol.”
Not that I totally give his wife a pass. I understand she’s dealing with a lot. But I’d like to see her recognize that a marriage has to be more than just sharing burdens. I acknowledge that it’s not realistic to expect it to forever feel like the initial infatuation, and insofar as she thinks Ned is expecting that kind of romantic ideal I get why she would react the way she does. But I think it’s crucial not to give up that ideal entirely. I think however long you have been together, however much you’re dealing with, you have to still have moments when you can look at your partner and feel the kinds of things you did when you first fell in love. If your attitude is that that kind of magic—the sexual passion, the floating on air feeling, the appreciation that this remarkable person you think is special thinks your special, the laughs, the making time for each other, the putting your partner ahead of yourself—is an early stage of a relationship that eventually, inevitably should be replaced by more “serious” stages of parenting, careers, caretaking of elderly parents, and adult responsibilities in general, then I think you’re missing the boat. No doubt the romance, the magic, won’t be as emotionally all-consuming as when you first realized you were in love, but you can’t let it slip away entirely and let the relationship grow stale.
So I would choose the reality of Helen Hunt over the pleasing but ultimately sad and creepy illusion of Carla Gugino, but it wouldn’t kill the former to be a little sweeter, regardless of what she’s going through. She’s maybe more her father’s daughter than she would care to admit.
Speaking of that father, certainly as we get to know him we see that there’s a lot more to him than just a vicious and unappealing grump. It’s not that the impression we get of him dramatically swings to the opposite extreme as his heart of gold comes to the fore and the relationships are all healed and they all live happily ever after. And it’s not that any of what comes later fully excuses his generally crappy attitude and the way he treats the people around him inconsiderately. But you see that here and there he’s still capable of acting in a loving, caring manner, you witness the passion he retains for certain things (most notably jazz music), and you learn more about the pain in his past and his present. Maybe it doesn’t render him likable in the end, but it certainly makes it easier to feel empathy for him, and it serves as a reminder that we should try to step back and get a fuller look at the life of even the most unpleasant people rather than rush to condemn them.
I had a strange reaction to one of the scenes that I wanted to mention.
In the subplot about Jonah being gay and Ned’s coming to terms with it and all that, there’s a scene where Jonah is given permission (somewhat reluctantly by Ned, more easily by Jeannie) to go to some sort of dance put on by a gay student group that will be attended by high school and college kids. We then see him at the dance. He is dancing and socializing with girls, and it looks like in the background at least most of the other people we see dancing or interacting are boy/girl couples.
And here’s what flashed through my mind at that moment: “Oh shit! He’s not even gay! It’s some kind of a put-on. He wants his parents, or maybe other people too, to think he is.” I thought, if that’s what was going on, then it was a wonderfully unexpected development in a movie that had felt so formulaic so far. It immediately got me speculating about why a teenage boy might do that, about how maybe political correctness and tolerance of LGBTQ folks and all that has gone so far in certain pockets of society—like this white, upper middle class, professional, world—that it has actually become hip to be gay. Or maybe a kid like him has picked up on the fact that his parents or other authority figures will be more inclined to placate him, give him attention, and forgive his little teenage misdeeds if they’re sympathetic toward his “struggles” as a gay youth. Like, “We really need to be understanding and handle him with kid gloves now, given all that the poor kid has to deal with growing up gay in a homophobic society.”
I thought it could be really unexpectedly awesome for a film to go there; that had never occurred to me as something to explore.
Alas, that turned out just to be a momentary misreading of the situation on my part. He is indeed gay, and that’s made obvious as we get deeper into the film. He just happened to be mostly interacting with female friends early in the evening at this dance; I don’t think his doing so is supposed to have any particular meaning.
Which is fine. I’m obviously not going to condemn a film for not venturing off into the unexpected in this specific way. Except that it all comes back to my sense that while there are things to admire about this film it still has a vaguely generic feeling to it, like I’ve seen enough films like it that it all seems to play out predictably. That’s why the one time I briefly thought it was headed somewhere else, that immediately got my attention and I experienced it as a welcome contrast.
I’m inclined to give Every Day a modest thumbs up. After thinking about it more and taking the time to write about it, I feel a little more favorable toward it than I did while I was watching it. It never felt special to me, but it does what it does competently enough.