I drive a Volkswagen Golf. I’m about as far-removed as one can be from Southern truck culture. Still, I can always appreciate the allure of the South (particularly the dripping humidity of Louisiana) as a setting for films. As distant as I am from that singular cultural identity, it must seem even more alien to German filmmaker Bastian Günther. His film One of These Days, which had its premiere way back at the 2020 Berlin Film Festival, is a commentary on American materialist culture in the most non-European of locales.
Kyle Parson (Joe Cole) is dead broke. At home, he’s got a baby with his young wife Maria (Callie Hernandez). Our first glimpse of Kyle features him dropping a basket of fries into a deep fryer, only to receive a call informing him that his name has been drawn from a raffle to determine the winner of a brand-new, full-size pickup. Naturally, he desperately needs this vehicle to support his family, the only catch being that a dozen or so other contestants’ names were also drawn. In order to win the truck, the contestants must compete to see who can keep their hands on the vehicle the longest — rain or shine, day and night.
“…the contestants must compete to see who can keep their hands on the vehicle the longest…”
The contest is overseen by peppy TV personality Joan (an energetic Carrie Preston who might just steal the show). Fun and optimistic outwardly, Joan’s personal life is a bit more tempestuous as she’s in a secret relationship with a well-known figure in the town. That’s not even mentioning her poorly-hidden depression regarding her daughter, who has flown the coop to go to college in Florida. Unfortunately, her chipper personality is frequently at odds with the misery the contestants are putting themselves through for this truck, though they’re all grateful for her maternal presence.
The setup in One of These Days is compelling. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t coalesce into a cohesive whole. The final quarter is shocking, but it frankly takes too long to get there, and one has to question the wisdom to extend the contest for so long. Günther should have prioritized building the characters’ backstories before plopping them all down around the truck so early on. The competition is a fairly original aspect to build a film around. Still, the novelty wears thin fairly quickly as we become anxious for more time with the characters outside the truck’s context. We definitely needed more of Preston and her character’s background.
The film is an admittedly biting statement on American culture’s unfortunate tendency to equate worth with material wealth and possessions. This is also a thesis we’ve seen plenty of times before, though. The utterly depressing conclusion to the film ultimately feels unsatisfying. If Günther worked to lighten the film’s tone a bit, One of These Days could have been a more memorable exploration of what it means to be an American instead of such a dour one. But giving credit where it’s due, the atmosphere is one that we don’t get enough of. No truck is worth peeing into a urostomy pouch, though.
"…an energetic Carrie Preston...might just steal the show."