Writer-director Matt McCormick’s Some Days Are Better Than Others is the kind of American independent quirkfest that needs to be quarantined and examined, not valorized. Its brand of Teflon-coated humanism is twee to the extreme and largely devoid of anything that might prove that it has more than just a surface interest in the way we live now. McCormick’s reductive drama makes a big show of its concern for the way we spend our time, the images we project of ourselves, and how much of ourselves we don’t realize we leave behind when we die. Once you get past its pensive atmosphere, you soon realize that there’s not much to McCormick’s examination of these themes beyond pat observations about humanity. The recession effectively forces our lead characters to reckon with what they’re doing with their lives and, man oh man, it isn’t pretty, enlightening, or even superficially dramatic.
Set in Portland, Oregon, the film follows three diverging stories. The amount of time McCormick devotes to his characters’ respective stories is a telling sign of what aspects of their loaded personalities he wants to exploit. Eli (James Mercer), a young post-grad that does odd jobs while waiting for a sweet gig as a production assistant to open up, is the character we spend the most time with. His temp work forces him to interact with unpleasant, smarmy people like Noel (Benjamin Farmer), a wannabe frat-guy stick figure with a short fuse and a shorter attention span (topics of discussion with Noel largely revolve around making money, banging babes, and drinking booze). By default, Eli’s interactions with Noel make him look sympathetic; at least he’s not a scuzzy young go-getter like that guy.
Also, unlike Noel, Eli takes time to consider what he’s doing and where he’s going in his life. Or, at least, that’s what we’re supposed to think. He works hard and sometimes gawks at the possessions left behind in a house of a recently deceased person whose possessions he’s paid to either junk or move. McCormick willfully bursts the air of faux-contemplation that surrounds Eli whenever Mercer opens his mouth. When Noel tells Eli that he sells a lot of the more valuable items he finds in dead people’s homes on eBay, Eli retorts that Noel’s the reason why there’s nothing cool at the local thrift stores. The joke understandably goes over Noel’s head, leaving Eli feeling even more alienated. It’s a throwaway line, but it reveals just how little McCormick’s protagonists have to say in the face of such hammy exemplars of malignantly wasteful behavior. Eli’s interactions with old friend Otis (David Wodehouse), an eccentric artist that’s working on a film composed entirely of video footage that examines the whorls in soap bubbles, are no more complex. These scenes never evolve beyond an openly manipulative bid to get you feel bad for Otis, a man that’s outlived both of his prior spouses and now lives alone, spending most of his time either lending Eli his car or making his soap film.
Katrina (Carrie Brownstein) is the star of the next most important but no less vapid story arc in Some Days Are Better Than Others. Katrina’s a wannabe reality TV star that goes through a bad breakup after spying on her boyfriend’s email and finding incriminating emails. She pours her tempestuous emotions into video journal entries that she plans to use for audition tapes for shows like The Real World. Sadly, when she finally brings her tape into a talent agency, she finds that bimbos with polished but trite and disingenuous audition tapes get ahead while earnest but unsexy tapes like hers get passed over. In that sense, Katrina and both of McCormick’s other lead protagonists learn that just by taking the time to ostensibly reflect on their lives, they’re automatically better than everyone else. Katrina doesn’t grow as a character, she just revels in her transient emotions as a way to process the pain of a breakup. This isn’t a life lesson, but a reflexive exercise in learning one’s own limitations.
McCormick wastes the least amount of time on Camille (Renee Roman Nose), a worker at a thrift store that discovers a discarded urn full of ashes. The fact that the urn contains a child’s remains especially irks Camille, so she refers to it as “a child” to her boss and not as a jar of ashes. Camille’s Madonna-like gesture is treated with such solemnity that it’s impossible to see any depth to it beyond the notion that being selfless without even thinking about the consequences of one’s actions is noble, somehow. After all, Camille doesn’t know what that child’s family’s wishes are. But that doesn’t stop her from spreading that child’s ashes at a nearby beach. A beatific halo of natural light surrounds her during her bus ride back from the beach, announcing that in McCormick’s Pollyannaish world, she’s done a good deed. Behold the power of positive thinking in all of its impotence.