Thursday, February 9, 2017

Some Days are Better Than Others (2010)

Director: Matt McCormick                               Writers: Matt McCormick & George Andrus
Film Score: Matthew Cooper                          Cinematography: Gregg Schmitt
Starring: Carrie Brownstein, James Mercer, Renee Roman Nose and David Wodehouse

I almost didn’t get this film because of some bad reviews on Amazon and IMDb, but they should all be ignored. Some Days are Better Than Others is a wonderful little independent film out of Portland, Oregon. Most of the negative criticism is that the film is boring, but that is almost always code for low intelligence in the reviewer and an inability to understand what the film is really attempting to do. Writer-director Matt McCormick has served up a slice of life picture that has some terrific characters working in mundane circumstances in order to accentuate the honest and real emotions of everyday people. Okay, it’s not for everyone, but I feel sorry for those who don’t get it. This is a fantastic film that works on a number of literal and metaphorical levels. It’s incredibly well filmed, and well acted. The film score by Matthew Cooper is very unique and appropriate for the visuals, with long, single notes and lots of ambient sound like traffic or waves that interweaves with the music. And the cinematography by Gregg Schmitt is also very impressive, with excellent lighting and memorable visuals.

The film begins with Carrie Brownstein talking into a video camera, recording an audition tape for a reality TV show. Life is good. She works with dogs at a shelter and has a long-time boyfriend, and a few days later she gets a letter from a talent agency that wants her to audition in person. Meanwhile, James Mercer is unemployed by choice, an anti-corporate liberal who works for a temp agency and has to borrow the car of his step-grandfather, David Wodehouse, who usually goes along with him, to get to work. The other main character is Renee Roman Nose, a sorter at a thrift store. She lives utterly alone in her apartment and barely speaks all day. After the characters have been introduced, McCormick starts throwing curves into their mundane lives. Brownstein, who has been dating her boyfriend for five years, logs onto his email when she can’t get a hold of him and discovers he’s having an affair with another woman. Mercer has a job counting cartons of milk in local grocery stores, and gets tossed out by security from a big chain store, while Roman Nose discovers the ashes of a child in an urn that someone has donated to the store.

What soon becomes apparent about the film’s purpose is that the three main characters are more emotionally connected to life than those around them. Benjamin Farmer plays a cutthroat estate liquidator. He’s crude and heartless and hires Mercer through the temp agency to empty an old woman’s home. Roman Nose continues sorting clothes, but everything seems to remind her of the child’s ashes that no one has bothered to come back and claim. And Brownstein, while the breakup is squeezing her heart, runs across her boyfriend with his new girlfriend and suddenly she can hardly breath. The other subtext is the idea of being discarded, whether it’s Brownstein being upset because one of her dogs is set to be euthanized, Mercer cleaning out the dead woman’s home, or the abandoned ashes of the little girl. But along with that is the metaphor of the Goodwill store, where someone’s trash is someone else’s treasure. And there are also two terrific dream sequences. The one with Brownstein's boyfriend getting out of the car and leaving her in the middle of the road is one of the highlights of the film. One of the most satisfying aspects of the film is the way that McCormick weaves all of the stories together at the end.

There are some really nice bits of writing in the film, most of them about James Mercer’s character. One is when Mercer tells David Wodehouse exactly how he can manage to eat out, three meals a day, for a mere six dollars. Another is when he and Wodehouse are spending the day at the beach. Their conversation is so heartwarmingly real that it’s difficult to believe. All of the principals are incredibly good. Both Carrie Brownstein and James Mercer are able to convey a sad sweetness that perfectly realizes McCormick’s message. Renee Roman Nose, in her quiet way is equally strong, and David Wodehouse is an absolute marvel. It’s also terrific to see other Portland actors show up in the film. Benjamin Farmer, who was so great in Jon Garcia’s The Falls films, gives a solid performance, and Luke Clements, who appeared to good effect in Justin Koleszar’s One Foot in the Gutter, has a bit part on a mock television show. I’ve seen a lot of independent films in the last few months, but this one is nearly perfect. While the ending might seem abrupt for some viewers, it really isn’t. Some Days are Better Than Others comes highly recommended.

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