Movies about actresses form one of the juiciest cinematic sub-genres, with examples ranging from sublime (All About Eve, Persona, Mulholland Drive) to ridiculous (Valley of the Dolls) to sublimely ridiculous (Mommie Dearest), nearly all of them bursting with drama, sex, humor or horror.
The first thing to note about Zoe Cassavetes’ Day Out of Days, a serio-comic chronicle of the daily humiliations, big and small, of being an over-40 actress in Hollywood, is that it’s not really bursting with anything — an indication both of the film’s integrity and its limitations. The new work from the daughter of John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands features no teary soliloquies or slapsticky set pieces, no violent outbursts, catfights or hallucinations. It is, rather, a quiet, wearily observed portrait of a former movie star (Alexia Landeau) fallen on hard times and drifting through a life and career in which she no longer seems fully invested. Never going out of its way to charm, tickle funny bones or pluck heartstrings, Day Out of Days (which had its premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival) is for the most part as discreet and detached as its heroine.
A closely observed but familiar portrait of a fallen star.
If only it were more interesting.
Cassavettes (whose first film, Broken English, was released in 2007 after a buzzy Sundance bow) follows the single, childless Mia as she goes about her business: meeting at the Chateau Marmont with a lecherous loon of a director (played by Eddie Izzard), who offers her a “comeback” part; auditioning to play the mother of the main character on a new TV series (“Try to look a little … prettier,” the casting person tells the lushly pretty Mia); lunching with her distracted agent (Brooke Smith, note-perfect as usual); dealing with her emotionally and financially dependent mom (Melanie Griffith, in a brief but poignant performance); hiking Runyon Canyon with her gay dermatologist pal (Cheyenne Jackson); reshooting scenes for a slasher flick helmed by a verbally abusive egomaniac (Mad Men’s Vincent Kartheiser, flashing post-Pete Campbell potential); agonizing over her ex (Alessandro Nivola), a fellow actor who has found continued success as well as love in the arms of a younger woman.
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Between rendezvous, we see Mia driving or walking the streets of Hollywood looking dazed, with French duo Scratch Massive’s angsty electro score reinforcing the dreamy, anesthetized monotony of her existence. But as highly competent a director as she is, Cassavetes hasn’t found a way to wring emotion or freshness from the ennui of a faded star, the way, for example, Sofia Coppola did in Somewhere — largely thanks to her use of music and how she arranged her performers’ bodies within the frame.
The general sense of dramatic slackness here stems in part from a problematic protagonist. French-American Landeau, who showed real comic spark as Julie Delpy’s kooky sister in 2 Days in Paris and 2 Days in New York, is likeable and persuasive, and, to their credit, Cassavetes and Landeau (who co-wrote the screenplay) never turn Mia into a punchline or pile on the indignities for effect. If anything, they’ve exercised too much restraint. We get that Mia is a shadow of her former self, going gracefully but inconsequentially through the motions — but did she really have to be this bland? It’s hard to believe someone with such dull edges was ever a success in the first place.
Day Out of Days knows its way around the slights and setbacks suffered by actresses who are past what the industry has deemed their prime, and specific moments have genuine sting: “OK, Meryl,” Kartheiser’s character snipes when Mia suggests a different approach for a scene they’re shooting. The naturalistic, if slightly deliberate dialogue could have used more jolts like that.
And while Cassavetes has a refreshingly light touch when it comes to her satirical targets, figures like the hungry starlet, the fast-talking directorial prodigy, the perkily passive-aggressive casting assistant and the brash agent inevitably feel a bit tired. Meanwhile, the movie’s themes — not just the disgust, both subtle and blatant, heaped on women of a certain age in the industry, but also the mysteries and sustaining joys of being an actress — were given a far more artful and stimulating work-through in Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria earlier this year.
Day Out of Days leaves a similar impression as Broken English: delicate but flimsy and mildly derivative, a semi-miscalculation crafted with talent and sincerity by a filmmaker working perhaps a bit too snugly within her comfort zone. Let’s see what she can do when she steps outside of it.
Production companies: Army of Women in association with Fun House ltd
Cast: Alexia Landeau, Melanie Griffith, Eddie Izzard, Cheyenne Jackson, Vincent Kartheiser, Alessandro Nivola, Brooke Smith
Director: Zoe Cassavetes
Writers: Zoe Cassavetes, Alexia Landeau
Producers: Zoe Cassavetes, Kate Roughan, Gina Kwon, Geoffrey Quan
Cinematographer: Denise Milford
Editor: Michael Mees
Composers and music supervisors: Scratch Massive
80 minutes, Unrated