Warning: This review contains spoilers
Ambitious set pieces and long chats filled with dialogue intended to be more quirky than compelling make up most of In a Day, directed by former child actor Evan Richards. The most interesting scene, though, features shopworker/musician Ashley (Lorraine Pilkington) encountering a creepy businessman who makes a pass at her on a street corner. He becomes more and more rude as she politely turns him down. Eventually, she’s bullied to the point of walking away, and he throws hot coffee at her.
The scene indicates that the movie, already leaning in a too-cute-for-its-own-good direction, is ready to become intriguing. How do you move on with your day after something like that? From here, it feels like the plot could go anywhere.
Where does it go? Right back to cutesiness. Ashley runs into a regular customer, Michael (Finlay Robertson), who’s too nice to be trusted. She does trust him, though, and he convinces her to join him for a cup of tea. At the cafe, the pair goes through getting-to-know you dialogue, and it goes on and on in a way meaning we’re supposed to be falling in love with these characters. Because, you know, they’re quirky.
“My half-brother and I don’t speak,” she says, “because he can’t speak. He’s got no tongue.” Just as it seems like In a Day is a play and not a movie at all, Michael convinces Ashley to go shopping with him for his sister.
At a private boutique, Michael has Ashley try on clothes and eventually buys her an outfit (in addition to the one for his sister). From the clothing store, he convinces her to go to lunch, where he treats her to a meal we’re to understand is exquisite (we barely see the entrees as they flash in front of the camera. This is the only part of the movie that goes by too fast), and then to his sister’s, and then to her friend’s place, and so on and so forth. At each place, he treats her with a suspicious amount of kindness (in most cases, this means he buys her stuff), and although he’s joking when he says he’s an angel, the film’s tone is saccharine enough that a viewer can be forgiven for taking him seriously.
Along the way, he eventually admits that he is intentionally being ridiculously nice to her, and it’s because “somebody” wants her to have a good day. She dopily suspects he’s referring to somebody other than himself, frustrating the audience with her stupidity and detracting attention from the question of his motivation. Ultimately, it’s hard to care about most of what these characters say or do, and the soft rock-pop songs that score transitions don’t exactly encourage wakefulness.
When they’re through going here and there, after they’ve run into the coffee man and Michael’s embarrassed him, they go to another cafe, where Michael reveals that he’s being kind to Ashley because, when they were youngsters, he bullied her. Apparently, he was a member or ringleader of a group of hoodlums who tortured Ashley to a cruel and vicious extent through much of her childhood, or else it’s hard to understand the guilt that drove him to concoct his elaborate scheme to give her a good day. Of course, this is really the first time we’re learning anything significant about Ashley’s childhood, so it’s difficult to feel anything for her, to be hit with all of the emotions she must be swept up in when she’s faced with the grownup version of her childhood abuser.
The way this information is revealed is the movie’s central and damning flaw. In telling the extremely relevant backstory of both main characters, only an actor would eschew every cinematic tool available and instead rely on another actor sitting still. No flashbacks, no complex structural storytelling devices, not even the sounds of a group of bullies on the soundtrack. Not only is Richards’ choice ineffectual, it makes the film’s plot incomplete.
We’ve seen Ashley be bullied. She didn’t seem to take it more harshly or end up in any more of a panicked state than anybody else would. The climactic scene reminds of us the possibilities offered by that early scene, and it also shows us that even that scene, the best one in the movie, was botched. Why did we not get a hint that Ashley had been kicked around before? Nothing much happens in this movie, and a viewer ends up feeling like what does happen wasn’t earned.
The DVD includes a self-satisfied making-of feature (“This is our Panavision camera, with the GIANT zoom lens,” cartoonish text says), a benign commentary track with Richards expressing his Anglophilia, and a number of IFC trailers.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times.
// Short Ends and Leader
"Alex Garland’s Ex Machina is a darkly funny and philosophical cyberpunk locked-room thriller that tangles with the greatest sci-fi puzzle: What does it mean to be human?READ the article