REVIEW: Helen Hunt, Ensemble Deal With Every Day Struggles

Movieline Score: 6

Garrett, the crass, crabby showrunner played by Eddie Izzard in Every Day, has a refrain meant to inspire the stable of television writers who script his Gray's Anatomy-ish show: Shock me. Shock me! Write something shocking! Jaded and suffering from character arc exhaustion, Garrett is meant to be a joke and he is: Incest, bestiality, and public sex (ideally with a hooker who has AIDS) are his idea of fresh and new; the craven, ratings-mongering type he embodies wouldn't pass his own smell test.

Writer/director Richard Levine, himself a veteran of TV shows like Nip/Tuck and Scoundrels, makes a pretty bold move early on in Every Day, his debut feature. After delivering on the title with a quotidian opening sequence featuring the cozy early-morning routine of Ned (Liev Schreiber) and his two sons in one of New York City's exurbs, he cuts to Izzard's writer's room schtick, where Ned and his colleagues (one played by Carla Gugino and her perfect bangs) are debating whether anal is the new oral. "Every script must have five shocking things," Garrett complains. "This one only has two!" Otherwise it's boring, is the point. Otherwise, as it happens, it's pretty much the main narrative of Every Day.

Levine seems to dare his audience to find that narrative as boring as Garrett implies it must be; instead of five "shocking" clichés, we are offered an array of the regular variety. First, I regret to inform you that Ned and his wife Jeannie (Helen Hunt) have hit a sexual slump. They have strenuously embraced their 15-year-old son Jonah's (Ezra Miller) revelation that he's gay, but dad's harboring some icky feelings about the lifestyle, if you know what I mean. Jeannie's jerk father Ernie (Brian Dennehy) is dying and Jeannie has decided to move him into her home; conflict and regression ensue, and getting old blows. Ned becomes vulnerable to lusty Gugino and her perfect bangs; good time girls are generally total train wrecks. Ned hates his job but has to keep the family afloat; the fact that he seems to be pretty bad at it may mean he's a better person than his peers. We never learn the contents of the script he struggles with throughout the film, an elision that feels like a missed opportunity to connect the two heavily patterned worlds with a little self-conscious stitching.

Instead there is an awkward twinning of Jonah's burgeoning sexuality and Ned's newfound vulnerability to bangs and eyeliner; both men are not only in danger but pursuing it. His father refuses to let Jonah go to a gay prom looking like "a hustler," but who let Ned (Schreiber, in a creepy tidy beard, adopts a luggish presence that suggests both stability and inertia, sometimes at once) out of the house dressed like a bored middle-aged husband? The insulting triteness of Jonah's first experience ("This is going to serve them right for not trusting you!" his older crush shrieks while dosing Jonah -- the way you might, say, an uncooperative cat -- between dances at a scary gay nightclub) is almost matched by that of Ned's dalliance with Gugino's "I just want to have fun before the party ends" cokehead.

Meanwhile, back at home, Jeannie is dealing with the body horror show her father has become, an add-on to the more conventional horror show he always was. In their scenes together the writing seems to sharpen, and Hunt and Dennehy rise to it, investing their exchanges -- which at their best are unexceptional and yet exquisitely painful -- with lifetimes of regret and ambivalence. The trick to making this kind of material work on the big screen seems to be in creating a domestic sphere that doesn't take on the contours of a network drama with an interchangeable name. The trick to that, as the scenes between Hunt and Dennehy suggest, is giving gifted actors a chance to access the kind of emotions you don't see every day -- or every night. Together they generate an energy missing from the rest of this perfectly, disappointingly ordinary film: raw, intimate, and altogether shocking.