While he's convinced he's never going to die, Judge Bill Gibron hopes his autumn years don't end up as sappy and cloying as shown in this manipulative Canadian effort.
Old Guy Goes Nutzoid!
Everyday, Will (Richard Bull, Little House on the Prairie) wakes up to the ceaseless cawing of his best friend and nursing home buddy George's pet parrot. He doesn't mind the shrill sounds of nature as much as the overall lack of respect he gets from the staff. The nurses, especially the domineering and demanding Ms. Thompson, treat the clientele like little children, lining them up for meals and lambasting them for not following the rules. Will is sick of such restrictions. He's 76 years old, and he lived a life full of productivity and promise. Now, he's hemmed in and demeaned, forced to fit into a situation that treats him and his fellow residents rather shabbily. So with George's help and a hand from his sweetie, Margaret, Will wants to form a grievance committee. Hopefully, it will force the owners of his old-age facility to wake up and treat the tenants like people. In the meantime, our gang of elderly activists wanders around the city, taking in the sights and getting slighted every step of the way. When Will finally returns to his family home, a place being sold by his adult children, he reveals secrets that change our entire perspective on the man. Instead of being tenacious, Will is troubled. Indeed, he feels that A Day in a Life could be the last for himself or anyone he loves.
A Day in a Life is a movie overloaded with unearned emotions. It plays upon the plight of the elderly and infirmed so shamelessly that you'd swear Maury Povich or Jerry Springer was somehow involved in the production. This is easy exploitation, a film forging a message out of twilight-year loneliness, the abandonment of the aged, and the lack of respect for one's elders. Apparently, even in Canada (where this movie was made), the retired and unwanted are warehoused in places where lawn bowling is the highlight of the week, and nurses are inconsiderate shrews more interested in setting discipline than showing compassion. When it's all over, when the one favored ancillary character has died, the inevitable romantic liaison is established, and the message about giving old folks their dignity is pounded into our head over and over and over again, you may actually find a little eye juice flowing. But it won't be well-earned tears you're crying. No, what A Day in a Life produces is a kind of involuntary weeping, minor and merely misty. You're not reacting to what's onscreen so much as getting in touch with your own feelings about the disrespect and lack of grace that comes with maturity in the modern world.
You'll also feel an equal amount of anger at how manipulated and coerced you are by the storyline. While you can tell the filmmakers had some halfway decent intentions, they're hedging their bets throughout this elderly empowerment saga. The narrative drags in places while it fails to properly put the situation into context in others. For example, our lead is a seemingly nice man named Will. He's obviously disgruntled, but not completely joyless. He's a widower who still maintains a good relationship with his adult children. In essence, he's the perfect prop for the next 90 minutes. When life spits and shifts on him, when clerks won't recognize his senior discount and pool hustlers demean his social standing, Will does indeed get worked up. He even gets himself in a little legal trouble. But like fluffy bunnies and cuddly kittens, Will is not worthy of arrest or incarceration. Instead, he's given a good talking to by the local PD, and then sent on his merry way. As curmudgeons go, he's about as surly as a sugar cookie. So what do writer Pierre-Jules Audet and director Jean Mercier do? They pile on the problematic backstory to make Will less of a goof and more of an angry old coot. Without spoiling the reveals, it turns out that this man carries a pain so deep it drives him to his unsettled outbursts.
But A Day In a Life can't quite figure out how to handle the emotion. Indeed, when another favored member of his nursing home family bites the big one (in a sequence so surreal and unsure of itself that it's shocking in its lack of cohesion), the grief is given an off-screen airing. The rest of the film is a series of episodic vignettes, each one calculated to deliver the proper amount of ire at how the world casts aside its retired and infirmed. As a result, we don't get real people, but issue-oriented icons. Will is the man fighting for his dignity; his gal pal is unsure she can continue to live in a country that treats her so callously. Another old woman's personality is taken straight out of the ethnic stereotype call box. As a thick-accented Italian, she's a fount of old-world wisdom, reads fortunes via playing cards, and can play Bocce ball with the best of them. The only things we don't see her do are make spaghetti sauce or scream "Mamma Mia!" Add in the oddly out-of-place sequences in which a young child of divorce pines for sympathy at the shoulders of these septuagenarians (a dilemma the filmmakers try to resolve with a single insignificant scene between mother and son), and the constant references to a lawn bowling showdown and you've got an episode of The Golden Girls meshed with the alien Viagra-less moments from Cocoon. As an example of how Great White North geezers spend 24 hours, the only question this movie raises is: Where's doctor-assisted suicide when you need it?
From a purely technical standpoint, it's hard to describe the DVD package this critic was faced with. The disc itself looks like an example of the homemade recordable medium, complete with computer printout label. Similarly, the cover art is clearly cut out and encased in a standard double digicase. This leaves room for a CD soundtrack that itself looks a wee bit more professional. As for the playback, A Day in a Life has a couple of issues. The 1.33:1 full-screen image is poorly mastered, with colors that creep over into pixelization and solarization every once in a while. This is especially true during a final scene where Will and his woman look like they're being filmed through a series of science fiction filters. The image appears unearthly. Similarly, the Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 mix is marred by occasional glitches and dropouts. Several times, the DVD "skips" as if purposely trying to avoid its own dialogue. Since the score is featured as a separate entity, it would be nice to report that Steven J. Wingfield has done a bang up job with the backing. Sadly, it sounds like our composer copped one too many ideas from Terms of Endearment, telegraphing every onscreen emotion with his syrupy string and piano arrangements. The only saving grace in this set is the fact that there are no more bonus features.
As one ages, they expect the world to fall back to the young. It was that way in their childhood, and it will be that way for eons to come. But no movie should try to take its title—A Day In a Life—so literally. Indeed, 90 minutes shouldn't feel like 24 hours—or a human being's entire existence on Earth. Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Mercier Films
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