Everyday couldn’t be a more appropriate title – Michael Winterbottom’s understated experiment attempts to capture glimpses of everyday life and routine in all its minute, unromantic detail. The film’s most noteworthy gimmick is that it was shot over a five-year period to allow its younger cast members (and, as far as haircuts and facial hair go, its older ones too) to age on camera. It’s a neat and justified artistic decision, but it’s hard to call whether the story deserved the logistical effort.
Shirley Henderson plays Karen, a mother of four young kids – the fictional siblings all played by real-life members of the family Kirk (Shaun, Robert, Katrina and Stephanie, to be exact). Father Ian (John Simm) is serving a five-year prison term for some sort of robbery. We check in with the family irregularly over the course of his sentence. The kids have trouble in school, Ian gets frustrated by the drudgery and isolation of prison life, and Karen raises the kids while holding down a series of jobs and attempting to resist the temptation of a romantic admirer (Darren Tighe).
One of the interesting side effects of the five-year filming approach is that we can see the progress digital cinematography has made during that period firsthand. Early scenes are visually noisy and rough, but the picture clarity ever improves as the film progresses. Winterbottom settles on mostly handheld, improvised camerawork in naturalistic settings such as houses, parks and (inevitably) prisons. Those familiar with ‘mumblecore’ or even Dogme 95 aesthetics will find themselves in relatively recognisable territory. The film’s loosely defined chapters are often broken up by sedate landscape shots and bursts of an energetic score by Michael Nyman – two concessions that feel a little odd in a film so militantly naturalistic.
In terms of storytelling, ‘realism’ is the order of the day. Devoid of voiceover or any such cheap tricks, the film gives us fleeting glimpses into the everyday life of one separated family. The film’s story is straightforward and often effective. Ian being forced to return to the prison after a rare day’s leave with his family is a heartbreaking moment, and much more so since Winterbottom and Simms don’t overplay the emotions. The film’s most ‘dramatic’ plot point is ambiguously hinted at throughout, and the big ‘revelation’ only arrives minutes before the credits roll.
Other times, the film’s incessant subtlety hints at interesting character developments that are never built on. The two boys, for example, are gifted with much more screen time than the girls, and we’re shown how the two youngsters are getting into fights at school. But the film doesn’t probe why that is sufficiently (although the absence of their patriarch is a given), and the subplot stops short of real insight. Indeed, the plot is so determinedly non-dramatic we’re regularly left short of genuine insight or catharsis. There’s also the perhaps not unjustified argument that these characters simply aren’t that interesting or developed enough to spend intimate time with. The constant prison visits grow repetitive (which, admittedly, is part of the point) and whatever understated plot there is is quite familiar.
Still, the film is diverting enough on its own limited terms. The acting is consistently decent – of course from proven talents like Simm and Henderson, but the kids handle it well considering the odd position they find themselves in. There’s some intriguing scenes, and an admirably unpretentious delivery throughout. Ultimately this long-term shooting experiment has delivered a very small-scale drama, and its simplicity is both its greatest asset and its biggest liability.
Everyday is released on 18th January 2013