How could I resist a teen film with the title of Every Day? And, even better, one that uses as its veritable anthem that synth-bass-under-accordion 1983 classic “This is the Day” by The The, previously milked for all its colossal-youth effect by Pedro Costa in his debut feature Switch (1989)? Sure enough and true to form, Every Day begins with the classic generic shots of kids waking up to their alarm clocks, while bright pop music plays … but, already, with some odd and so far inscrutable details thrown in.
I stumbled upon this intermittently perky movie in a Guardian list of 2018 titles that people may have missed: not the certified independent, foreign or experimental stuff, in this case, but one of those small, commercial films in genres (like the teen movie) that used to flourish during the video-shop era of the 1980s, and are now having something of a quiet comeback in the Netflix-etcetera age of digital production and distribution.
Every Day has an unusual, “supernatural” premise that takes a while to reveal itself clearly. Rhiannon (Angourie Rice) – who complains that people mangle her name into Rihanna, a gentle sign of much larger identity-complications to come – receives a pleasant surprise when her normally rather insensitive boyfriend, Justin (Justice Smith), spends one day being super-sensitive, caring and affectionate. They skive off school (the ideal Teen Utopia of the Day Off!), they go have a picnic, they fool around, they talk deeply … But, the following day, Justin is back to his brutish self. What’s happened? Now there’s another, apparently new girl at school hanging around Rhiannon, weirdly defending her honour to Justin’s face – and uncannily repeating the same, tender gesture (placing Rhiannon’s stray strand of hair behind her ear) that the changeling bf did the day before. What’s going on?
Read no further if you want the full, unfolding, narrative surprise, but: what Every Day depicts is a “someone” – given the nominal tag of “A” – who, since birth, has woken up in a different person’s body, and life, every day. So A tries not to alter the destiny of anybody’s briefly inhabited existence. Naturally, A has become, through this supernatural (and never explained, which is merciful) process, a repository of wisdom, compassion, understanding … in short, everything that Rhiannon wants in a boy.
But is A a boy, really? In fact this Self has passed through so many people – male, female, black, white, Asian, etc (all the same age that A has reached at any given point, strangely, and all more or less in the same geographic vicinity, never on the other side of the world or elsewhere in history) – that A is a veritable emblem of teen (and beyond) Queerness. Yet, if this is so, why does the film so often seem to nudge us to think of A as, fundamentally ‘he’?
Both the intriguing fun and the wimpy evasiveness of Every Day are signalled in the fact of its coyness around sex in any shape, form or manifestation. Rhiannon is several times seen lounging around A-as-male with his shirt off and ultra-clean sheets casually strewn about – as if to “make the most of the last precious hours” in each ephemeral day, as the dialogue earnestly yet discreetly hints – and yet, when A is female and asks for a kiss from Rhiannon, we get only a very weak, fleeting, fully-clothed peck. I call foul!
Now, this is a film that could go in several different directions – or flirt with all of these paths in turn. A section in which a freaked-out guy who’s been “possessed” screams Satan and runs to the bosom of his church briefly raises horror movie potential – I was reminded of Dennis Iliadis’ outstanding (and also overlooked) +1 (2013), with its loopy concept of “mirror beings”, finally rather destructive shadows, existing ten minutes away from us in time. Naturally, uninspired reviewers cited Groundhog Day (1993) and its many derivatives: the ‘live your day over and over and finally get it right’ notion that has become beloved of contemporary romantic comedy.
But, with its strong New Age vibe – its repeated motto exhorting us to make marks and change lives is brandished in the final, “Instagram” shot – Every Day is closer to, on one hand, the type of more-or-less progressive Young Adult fiction associated with the source-author, David Levithan (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, co-written with Rachel Cohn, adapted for the screen in 2008) and, on the other, the heady TV series by Brit Marling & Zal Batmanglij, The OA (2016– ). Hence the determined shying away from any possibility of demonic negativity or trickster-games in A’s trajectory.
Or it could also be a wonderfully vulgar Blake Edwards comedy of body/identity-confusion, of the Switch (1991) variety – or, dialled down just a little in outrageousness, Paul Schneider’s notable teen movie Willy Milly (1986). But let’s look at the scene in which A wakes up as Rhiannon herself: while showering, A promises “not to look” at her naked body. As film-nerds love to say: how unconvincing is that!
The most fascinating element of Every Day – and since you didn’t dip out of this review earlier, I’m going to now spill the plot resolution – concerns how it “gets out” of the impossible tangle it weaves for itself. It should be evident that a good part of the film’s passing thrill comes from its “revolutionary” or (within a closeted mainstream) forbidden scenarios: a lesbian hook-up, an interracial love, etc. (One glimpse at the usual Internet troll-sites will show you that even a movie as tame as this is a “scandal” to some.) Rhiannon embraces (or so it seems) the Queer Utopia: she wants to go on with A forever, for all their (many) lives – no matter what manner of complication (several of which we’ve already seen) arise.
But then A evokes – and the film materialises in a dreamy-spooky sequence of digitally conjoined tableaux – the key problems of the future. How would they organise any routine in their perpetually fractured union? What if they have a child? Will Rhiannon be condemned to raise the child more or less alone? How would A even know that it’s truly his (here, especially, the gender-assignation pressure insists) child?? Well, Stanley Kubrick did once say (after sampling some anthropological tome or other) that “anxiety over paternity” is the very motor of all civilisation and drama …
This sequence, however, says more (or different) than it means to. Because, ultimately, it’s growing up into adult roles and destinies (work, family, etc) that constitutes the film’s true idea of horror! It’s a teen movie that – once again, true to generic form – wants to freeze us all at the liminal phase of human development. During that liminality, everything was possible and thinkable … but not when the reality-clock ticks on. It’s an intriguing conundrum for any movie to grapple with, consciously or not, and Every Day takes up its modest place in the gallery of films that approach (and, in this case, tip-toe through) such a cultural-political minefield.
All that’s left, at this point, is for A to guide Rhiannon to the perfect, shy, artistically sensitive guy at her school … and voilà! “A” goes on its queer way – but in another, bigger city, far away. Rhiannon and her new hetero mate wouldn’t want to be bumping into further A-incarnations, after all … And Rhiannon, for her part, encourages A to adopt a more militant, pro-active stance: yes, do save people from suicide (this is an episode we see), alter their lives for the better! Thus A becomes a kind of Cosmic Social Worker of the Soul – and everything to do with sexuality gets gently detached from the frame once more.
© Adrian Martin 31 December 2018