Judge Joel Pearce wouldn't include A Perfect Day in plans for a perfect Christmas.
There's no greater gift than family.
Ah, Christmas films. Just like Christmas music, film producers seem to be insistent on creating more and more holiday tales, even though most people would rather just return to the established classics. In this case, A Perfect Day wants to tap into that same spirit that A Wonderful Life captured so beautifully, except that this time around the magic is truly gone. Tack on an ending right out of left field, and this is certainly a film whose ghost won't even turn up for Christmases future.
Facts of the Case
When Rob Harlan (Rob Lowe, Austin Powers in Goldmember) gets fired unexpectedly, he gets quite discouraged. Quickly, though, his wife Allyson (Paget Brewster, Unaccompanied Minors) convinces him to turn his diaries into a novel. Before he knows it, A Perfect Day is written and he has found a publisher. His life turns into a whirlwind adventure, but his family gets a little lost along the way. Once he realizes how much he has pushed them away, he needs to discover a way to get back to the place he all started. The pressure increases when he meets a mysterious stranger (Christopher Lloyd, Back to the Future) who tells him that something terrible is going to happen. Good thing that Christmas is coming up.
More than anything, A Perfect Day is plagued by plot and balance problems. I like the premise of an author who struggles with his newfound fame and fortune. Had this been the focus of the film, I think it would have been a lot stronger. The whole Christmas redemption narrative is crammed in, though, which takes up too much time. The film also spends tons of time with the impact of his actions on the family, which also loads up the running time. Once the subplot of the mysterious and all-knowing stranger gets crammed in, there's simply too much to handle for a 90-minute movie. None of the elements are handled well enough, and the characters get lost in the mix.
This lack of character development is a shame, because all of the performances are quite impressive. Rob Lowe gives a great performance as Rob Harlin, but his transformation from dedicated family man to snobby author only takes about five minutes. He spends so long convincing us that he's a nice guy, we simply don't believe him when he turns into a self-indulgent monster. He gets great support from Paget Brewster, who gives a heartfelt performance as well, but several of the other supporting roles are simply mailed in. Christopher Lloyd is completely wasted in the role and also brings up some surreal flashbacks to the Back to the Future films, which would be best avoided here.
Which brings us to the terrible ending. We aren't sure who the Christopher Lloyd character is, only that he knows far too much about Rob's future and quickly proves that he knows thing that no person could possibly know. There are interesting possibilities with this role—is he a character from Rob's fiction come to warn him in the real world? Is he a version of Rob from the future? Is he really an angel, come to solve the problem? The film gives us the most mundane, tacky reveals possible, only a half-step up from "it's all a dream." The reality of this character is revealed in such a half-baked way that it's only after the disappointment fades that we realize how many ridiculous plot holes are opened up.
Not, I suppose, that it really matters by the end. A Perfect Day delivers the heartfelt family-friendly ending that it wants to, regardless of how many logical leaps it needs to make in order to get there. I also have to concede that it plays a bit better than a lot of the television specials that come down the pipe every year. I can see families settling in to watch this film, a fire on in the background and the Christmas cheer interrupted every few minutes for obnoxious holiday commercials on a Sunday evening. To release this film on DVD is unnecessary, though, because this is one of last year's offerings. A Perfect Day will never be remembered fondly by a generation of families, and it won't gain a cult following when it's rediscovered in decades to come. It's a moment that has passed, a minor flash of Christmas cheer to warm up holiday television viewers.
To its credit, Sony has done an acceptable job with this release. They haven't bothered putting any special features on the disc, but the transfer is pleasing. It looks like film, not tape, and the color balance is excellent. I didn't notice any digital flaws in the video transfer, and it was easy to understand the dialogue throughout the film. Nobody is going to use the disc as a reference demo, but the production crew went above and beyond what they needed to do with such a humble film.
I'm struck by the irony that Rob spends the time away from his family trying to work out a television deal for his novel. Since this film was based on a novel by Richard Paul Evans, do you suppose he had family problems during this whole process? Was this a redemptive adaptation, or simply another cold calculation by the studios to cash in on holiday storytelling? I guess we'll never know for sure. I can say pretty confidently, though, that this is not going to become one of your perennial favorites. Just re-watch It's a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol instead.
Another victim of the holiday television rush.
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