After sitting through some big-budget sleaze fest, writing a bad review is a satisfying act of revenge. After watching the little film that couldn’t, however, it feels like you’re kicking a lost puppy.
From Philadelphia writer/director Patrick Rodio, “Better Days” is the latest in a long, long line of sensitive-guy-movies that beginners love for their low budgets and “write-what-you-know” ethos. In this case, it’s the story of four college buddies whose post-collegiate lives are growing increasingly rocky.
Wilbur (Patrick Nicholas) is a (mostly) happy guy heading giddily for the altar with his earthy longtime girlfriend, Jane (Stephanie Sewell). Everything seems fine, but for some reason, with just a few weeks before the wedding, almost everyone he knows is warning him not to get married. Wilbur’s jobless, sad-sack ex-film-student of a best friend, Tim (Michæl R. Severns), on the other hand, has just been dumped. Prospects for a new girlfriend and a new job are grim, though he’s nursing a crush on a now-attractive girl he dissed back in high school (Janna Ferner). Already married Harry (Justin Jay) has the opposite problem, his self-pity and habitual womanizing antagonizes his friends and becomes really serious when his neglected wife, Linda (Carrie Leigh Snodgrass), gets pregnant. Things get even more severe for Aaron (Joe Adams), the fourth member of the group; the poor shmoe is killed before his character has even been introduced!
What follows are the usual sort of life-lessons and a bundle of cliches. There are flashbacks revealing the dead Aaron as the most soulful (and the best actor) of the bunch, a bartender who doles out free relationship counseling, a wacky-but-warm grandma, and a horde of tough-but-loving parental figures. It all culminates in one of the longest wedding sequences since “The Deer Hunter,” where almost everything is resolved, the good are implausibly rewarded and sinners are more believably chastised.
A slightly risky observation: For some reason, there’s a repeated motif of African-Americans as dispensers of true wisdom, actual humor and slightly superior acting ability. I’ve seen this sort of thing before, but being the timid white liberal that I am, I’m not sure what to make of it. Somebody please send a copy of this movie to Chris Rock!
“Better Days” is a bad, movie with a good heart…if you can call it a movie at all. With annoying, grain-free DV production values that rarely rise above the level of an instructional video or a locally produced TV commercial, it’s hard to imagine screening this on anything other than a TV set. Nevertheless, beneath all the problems, the poor acting, the slow pace, and the relentlessly unfunny humor, lies some real sweetness and perhaps even some wisdom — though little intelligence.
If writer/director/cameraman/soundman Patrick Rodio had been able to recruit a co-writer and good technical people — or if he’d used more African-American actors — he might have actually had something.