Title: Some Days Are Better Than Others
Writer-director: Matt McCormick
Starring: James Mercer, Carrie Brownstein, David Wodehouse, Renee Roman Nose, Eric McGarry
A delicate tone poem ensemble set in Portland, writer-director Matt McCormick’s “Some Days Are Better Than Others” is an unfussy rumination on modern human disillusionment and connection. The so-called “mumblecore” genre has gotten a bit of a bum rap for the dawdling pace and seemingly lesson-free nature of many of its entries, but there’s a pleasant and refreshing sense of cinematic rejuvenation that comes with submitting to a film that feels entirely of a piece in all its elements, but also unburdened by any sense of desperate, dutiful narrative shock. If, in their plotting, most movies roughly resemble a river current, “Some Days Are Better Than Others” is like a thin, burbling brook, winding its way across a varied landscape without even the intention of carving out its own path over and through its surroundings.
Recently selected to play New Directors/New Films, the prestigious film series organized by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art, “Some Days Are Better Than Others” centers around Eli (James Mercer, frontman of acclaimed indie rock band The Shins), a listless would-be substitute teacher who can’t return to college and procure his degree because of some crippling student loans. To pay rent for the house he shares with his roommates, Eli takes odd jobs through a local temp agency, though even this work is often dependent on the availability of the car he borrows from his step-grandfather Otis (David Wodehouse), a kindly old soul taken with the kaleidoscopic images he can conjure up by placing soap bubbles under a microscope.
Eli’s story is interwoven with two other tales that loosely intersect the same small world/emotional space. Katrina (Carrie Brownstein, late of Sleater-Kinney), who works at a pet shelter and harbors dreams of being cast on a reality TV show, finds her world turned upside down when her boyfriend callously dumps her. Camille (Renee Roman Nose), meanwhile, works at a Goodwill-type donation center, and is unsettled to the point of preoccupation when an urn containing the ashes of a young girl shows up in a batch of bequeathed items.
“Some Days Are Better Than Others” is a sensitive and soulful film, populated by characters recognizably weighed down by both circumstance and a greater, free-floating ambivalence. On their (unrelated) song of the same name, from their 1993 album “Zooropa”, U2 opined that, “Some days take less but most days take more, some slip through your fingers and onto the floor.” The feature film debut of music video and short-form director McCormick embodies just this sense of encumbrance. Plenty of movies track the wandering, distracted anxieties of randy young twentysomethings, overwhelmed and uncertain of where their lives are headed. It’s a much greater degree of difficulty, pegging the ennui and melancholy of thirtysomethings and those (like the character of Camille) even older, but McCormick does so by not injecting contrived crises or false, overarticulated panic into his story. He simply showcases his characters’ quiet desires and unhappiness without doting on their low-grade desolation (“This depression ain’t gonna have any impact on us,” Eli says to Otis at one point, in a strikingly revealing throwaway line) or, worse, simplifying it as something that can be solved in silver-bullet fashion, by one new job or person in their life.
Mercer and Brownstein are musicians first and foremost, but they each exhibit a persuasive, tranquil charisma here, by not trying too much. They, and McCormick, know that in life unhappiness isn’t as often characterized by wild acting out as movies would have us believe. Just a couple of the perfunctory roles are overdrawn, but the target at which the thoughtful, engaging “Some Days” is aiming is a smaller one than most modern mainstream movies even attempt to hit, and it does so in beautiful fashion.
Written by: Brent Simon