$5 a Day
There is a specific type of film that tends to divide people. It can turn against each other in vehement arguments that can become quite heated. You might be surprised at the true nature of this extremely divisive film; the family road trip movie. People seem to either gravitate towards this type of film or flee from the room. I noted this after having a stroke and moving in with friends. They are a couple whose opinions on cinematic endeavors I greatly respect even when we differ as to the worth of a particular movie. One of them is able to get into this type of film citing the ‘National Lampoon’ vacation movie as an example while the other half of the couple is more discerning in her likes and has been known to drift away from the screen into another room when an example of this genre is on screen. The latest flick of this type I’ve encountered if ‘$ a Day’. In a touch of irony this movie stands as an example for both camps. I found that the story was potentially good albeit only looking at themes already overly explored more effectively in other movies. The professionalism of the cast goes a very long way to support this movie despite the fact the technical flaws threaten to overwhelm the production. The heart strings of the audience are pulled so strongly and deliberately that you might think it was created for some cardio centric tug-of-war. The misery and gloom is piled on heavy forming a heap that towers over the rest of the story. If they had only played down some of the strife presented here the film might have worked out better. As is the story is mired in the misery abounding in the life of the lamentable protagonist. When you look at the family road trip films that have worked one thing appear to have in common is a humorous foundation where the humor can be manifested in a spectrum ranging from light hearted and silly to deliciously dark nature. $5 a day’ tries but with constructing this scaffold there is little to support the film.
One thing the script does have in its favor is its authors; husband/wife team of Neal H and Tippi Dobrofsky they do manage to capture that dysfunctional family dynamic that has become mandatory for a movie concerned with a family trapped together for any length of time. Much of the time films portray a family roads trip as a modern revisiting of Jean-Paul Sartre’ existential nightmare, ‘No Exit’ only in this movie hell is being trapped in a car on a seemingly endless trip with your family. The Dobrofsky’s have demonstrated a perchance for the twisted in one of their prior films concerned with the urban myth of a stolen kidney. If they held the course and remained darker this could have made a great dark comedy and worthy update to the classic ‘No Exit’ I have always felt that that set of circumstances held incredible potential but once again it remains just beyond the grasp of the film makers. Taken on the directorial responsibilities here was Nigel Cole. He doesn’t have a lot on his resume, yet, but one notable film there was the endearing comedy, ‘Calendar Girls’ about a group of feisty ladies past their physical prime taking on the economy by baring it all. Again, as with the screen writing team this speak of inspiration demonstrates an innate talent that deserves to be nurtured; guided to reach its potential. This is not a case that the end result is bad, it’s not. I enjoyed watching but I had that ‘empty calorie’ snack food feeling. Like a Mc Nugget I enjoyed the momentary sensation but it was exactly like every other Mc Nugget ever made. Considering the proven talent here I was hoping for more originality.
Flynn (Alessandro Nivola) is an extremely lamentable young man. He is an ex con currently eking out a meager living as a health inspector. When his past catches up with him Flynn finds himself summarily fired. Adding to this unsettling time Flynn is contacted by his estranged father, Nat (Christopher Walken) who relates to Flynn an extremely dubious story about a brain tumor. Nat needs for his son to take a cross country journey in search of an equally suspicious free treatment. The trip is fueled by one con after another that starts out alright but will rapidly loose the attention of the audience. The film immediately introduces Flynn as a meticulous trying his best to do his job but there is not enough of this back-story is provided before the ax falls and he’s canned. The lovable con man requires some ramp up where the audience can get to emotionally understand the person and begin to identify with him on some level. We went too quickly from here he is to ruining his life for this to happen. I understand and appreciate the desire to have efficiency in the story telling but this instance cried out for the camera to linger a little longer. The time could easily be taken from some pronged shots of the silly car used in the actual trip.
There is just enough that works here to ensure this talent group of film makers will be given an opportunity to hone their respective crafts. Rather than try to main the story as a single entity there is an episodic approach employed. Thankfully the road trip movie is innately conducive to such a treatment. The constantly changing local ushers in new circumstances and different characters that work to keep the film well paced. This typically takes the onus off the central characters by giving screen time to well establish actors in cameo appearances. In this case it does work out well but was for the most part unnecessary. This is solidly due to the incredible talent of the principles. Nivola is a solid as a rock in his presentation of the much put upon Flynn. He has nailed the ‘every-man’ persona with an ease few actors can achieve. The audience will be able to rapidly form a strong bond of identification with him cementing the core of the film’s premise. Playing perfectly off this steadfast character is a near brilliant as ever performance by Walken. I have a fan of his for many years and have found that no matter what role he takes on he gives his all in something that is guaranteed to please. Here he gives another quirky performance that is great to watch. Sprinkled in between all of this is a parade of walk on performance to keep thing on track. It could have been better but it does entertain.