Everyday begins with a flourish. The opening credit sequence features cast and filmmakers’ names presented in loud ochres and blues, ushered in by Michael Nyman’s rhapsodic original score, and seems to suggest a film of bold, expressionistic design—essentially the opposite of what the title itself implies. Both implications end up being semi-accurate: the tension between the sensory and the banal informs the entirety of Michael Winterbottom’s film, which follows the day-to-day struggles of Karen Ferguson (Shirley Henderson) and her husband, Ian (John Simm), as she juggles raising their four kids while he rides out a prison sentence for an unspecified crime. The actors and filmmakers rely on a hyper-realistic approach to explore the Ferguson family’s situation, but Winterbottom also uses bucolic visuals and Nyman’s bombastic music to seek out what is grand, even operatic, about this family and their purgatorial journey. The result is a jarring, genuinely puzzling film, juggling tones and themes in the spirit of experimentation.
Everyday has attracted media interest primarily because of its unusual filmmaking process: Winterbottom shot the film in two-week intervals over the course of fives years, resulting in the uncanny experience of watching the four Ferguson children (played by four real-life siblings) age in perfect sync with the narrative’s years-long duration. Karen and Ian age before the audience’s eyes too, of course, but Winterbottom and his two lead actors emphasize the adults’ emotional and psychological inertia, contrasting deeply with their children’s growth. As in Ava Duvernay’s fantastic Middle of Nowhere, another recent film about a couple coping with one partner’s imprisonment, incarceration acts as an agent of stasis and passivity not just inside, but also outside the cell: Ian and Karen are stuck emotionally treading water while the people who need them stumble their way through painful changes.
But while Everyday charts its protagonist’s gradual progression toward a renewed sense of agency and freedom, it rarely indulges in lengthy or even linear narrative arcs. Prospective subplots—Karen’s brief courtship of a well-meaning local, Ian’s botched attempt to smuggle hash into prison following a day outing with his family—pop up and then suddenly vanish, often within individual scenes. This hyperactive approach to storytelling is often needlessly frustrating to watch, but it serves an important function as a mirror of Ian’s relationship to his family: His children grow up, his wife stalls and spins in circles, and he can only make contact with them via brief, sporadic visitations.
The story of the Ferguson family, then, is often a banal and grueling one to sit through, and its emphasis on daily routine would feel unnecessarily repetitive were it not for Simm and Henderson, whose detailed, effortless performances provide probably the strongest argument for the atypical shooting schedule. Neither actor showboats, nor do they take the easy route of portraying Ian and Karen as overly dour or victimized. Henderson in particular excels in a rare lead role, revealing the contradictions buried inside an unremarkable but fundamentally decent woman. A scene in which Ian coerces Karen into discussing her sexual desires, while prison guards keep stern watch just out of earshot, is genuinely devastating: as a silent storm of reticence, confusion, and even anger overtakes Karen, the viewer realizes that this woman has never vocalized such desires before, and were it not for this peculiar situation, probably never would.
These moments of surprising emotional richness keep the more expressionistic sequences—mostly interludes of Technicolor countryside or languorous family beach outings, as Nyman’s score aims for the rafters—from feeling too overbearing (or worse, parodic). Instead, these baroque flourishes inject Everyday with a unique and perplexing energy, emphasizing the coexistence of banality and beauty within this universe. It also undermines a reading of this story as a long journey toward reunion and redemption; for the Fergusons, optimism seems as accessible as sorrow at any given moment, and pain is as fleeting as joy. Everyday ends on a positive note, but the implication seems not to be that the Fergusons’ future is full of hope, but rather that in the present, they’re mercifully content. It doesn’t sound like much, but in the strange little world of this strange little film, it still feels like a victory.