Thursday, April 14, 2011

Caring Is (Not) Creepy

US, 2010,
93 mins.)

I get to sleep in
my own bed at
the end of the
day. And my
back doesn't
hurt as much.

-- Carrie Brownstein on the advantages of acting over touring

Rather than the musical or comedy one might expect, based on the pri-
mary participants, director Matt McCormick's Some Days Are Better
than Others
revolves around loss and the things people leave behind.

Before the IFC series Portlandia, with Carrie Brownstein, and the debut
from Broken Bells, with James Mercer, Brownstein and Mercer starred in
this, McCormick’s first feature, which premiered at last year’s SIFF. Since
that time, Brownstein formed Wild Flag with three other women, including
Sleater-Kinney's Janet Weiss, while Mercer continues to front the Shins.

It's fair to say these two have been keeping busy, but who knew they could act--not counting the shorts they made with McCormick, which I haven’t seen. They’re rough around the edges, but I enjoyed spending time with Brownstein's Katrina, who works at a dog shelter, and Mercer's Eli, who works temp jobs and helps out Otis (David Wodehouse), his step-grandfather, who's making a film out of soap-bubble reflections.

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Click here for the trailer

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While Eli hangs out with Otis, Katrina works on art projects and makes
audition tapes for a reality show. McCormick contrasts their stories with
that of Camille, a middle-aged woman (Renée Roman Nose) who sorts
through new arrivals at a thrift shop. She takes most items in stride until
the day she uncovers a brass urn bearing the name of a child, and spends
the rest of the film trying to find a home for it. Eli has a similar reaction
when he helps to clear out a dead woman's house, which means rifling
through her belongings--and answering to a self-centered creep.

As for their love lives, Katrina's been seeing the same guy for five years,
but their relationship comes to an end when she finds out he's met some-
one else (she logs into his email account). When Otis asks Eli why he isn't
seeing anyone, he explains, "I have a bad habit of falling in love with les-
bians," a reference to his attractive roommate, Chloe (Erin McGarry).

I didn't buy the reality TV subplot, but found the rest of this low-key en-
try engaging. It's not that the audition process seemed unrealistic, but
that Katrina never came across as the type to fall for it. At least she's
not chasing fame or money, but rather the desire to express herself
and prove to her ex-boyfriend that she's moved on. Or so she says.

Though I expected Katrina and Eli to cross paths sooner, they don't meet
until the end, at which point McCormick reveals the surprisingly mundane
connection between them. Until that point, there was no obvious through-
line, and Katrina never runs into Camille as Eli does (in an oblique way).

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Click the links for McCormick's videos for the Shins' "Australia" and
"The Past & Pending" (unfortunately, embedding wasn't an option).

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Throughout, the filmmaker displays a refined eye. There's a studied sym-
metry to most scenes, which will surely strike some as cute or quirky, but
I appreciated the attention to detail, especially in a low-budget production
(which becomes clear in an early driving scene, where the looping is off).

A minimalist organ score from Eluvium's Matthew Cooper adds to the
feeling of Miranda July-like wistfulness, and compensates for the lack of
selections from Sleater-Kinney or the Shins. On the contrary, there's a
sequence in which Eli, a karaoke enthusiast, limps through "Total Eclipse
of the Heart" as if it were his first time at a mic. It's believably painful.

Lately, I've been watching a lot of Portland-set films. If Some Days isn't
as light on its feet as Aaron Katz's Cold Weather, which played the North-
west Film Forum last month, the city seems brighter and more welcoming
here. Katz was going for a cold, clammy, noirish look, and he succeeded.

The Portland in McCormick's movie recalls the one that anchored 2007's
Paranoid Park
, so it only makes sense when Gabe Nevins, who played the
lead in that picture, shows up for a cameo here (as a grocery store clerk),
alongside Sleater-Kinney's Corin Tucker (as a customer at the store).

Pitchfork confirms the link between these projects: "Neil Kopp and Da-
vid Cress, the producers of Some Days Are Better than Others, al-
so produced Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park and Kelly Reichardt's Will
Oldham-starring Old Joy" (in which McCormick played "weed dealer").

All that said, it’s hard to predict
how fans of Brownstein and Mer-
cer will react to this film, since
it doesn't capitalize on their mu-
sic/musical personas, yet they
represent the biggest names as-
sociated with it. I hope they like
it better than Slant's Simon Ab-
, who dismissed it as "the
kind of American independent
quirk-fest that needs to be
quarantined and examined."

The debt to You and Me and
Everyone We Know
may be too
clear at times, intentionally or
otherwise--Brownstein has also
worked with July--but McCormick
flirts with indie rom-com tropes,
only to abandon them along the way, which seems fitting in a film about abandonment.

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Some Days Are Better than Others plays the Northwest Film Forum
from 4/15-21 at 7 and 9pm. Matt McCormick will be in attendance on
opening night, along with Renée Roman Nose. The NWFF is located at 15-
15 12th Ave. between Pike and Pine. For more information, please click
here. The title, incidentally, comes from a song by Seattle's Carissa's
Wierd. According to Urban Honking, source for the image at top, "Mc-
Cormick was heavily inspired by their music in the creation of this film."

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