By Preston Wilder
We’re all the same. That’s always been true, more or less, but it’s even more true for today’s young people, at least in the West. (Are they still millennials? Post-millennials? Who knows.) They’ve all grown up in a globalised world, dominated by the same few conglomerates. They’ve all been raised on McDonald’s and Disney cartoons, the latter taking pains to push a message of tolerance and egalitarianism (a.k.a. We’re All the Same). They all have smartphones, and use them compulsively. Their politics are also increasingly uniform, a set of accepted shibboleths – religion is a scam; smoking weed is harmless; gay and trans rights are self-evident – which are both egalitarian in themselves and espoused, so it seems, by the vast majority of youngsters. They’re all the same.
That’s the underlying message in Every Day, a surprisingly lovely teen drama that’s not much deeper than those Disney cartoons (‘When faced with difference, recall our common humanity; everyone’s special in their own special way’), but filters the sentiment through a hugely original premise and utterly charming lead performance by Angourie Rice (Ryan Gosling’s precocious daughter in The Nice Guys). She’s Rhiannon, our 16-year-old heroine – though this isn’t really her story, it’s the story of A, a person (spirit? being?) who wakes up every day in a different body.
A can be anyone, with just a couple of caveats. He – we’ll call him ‘he’ for convenience, though of course his gender is fluid – always wakes up in a body of his own approximate age, viz. an adolescent (those hoping for a twist where A turns out to be a 40-year-old man posing as a teen, like some weird metaphysical predator, will be disappointed), and he always stays in the same geographical vicinity from day to day. His worst nightmare is to wake up as a kid whose family are about to go on holiday, because that would force him to a new place where he’d probably have to stay for several years. This happens at one point in the movie, but he manages to avoid relocation; still, being in love with a shape-shifter makes things tough for Rhiannon. She’s annoyed when he stands her up, and furiously demands to know why; “I was having a lung transplant,” he replies – meaning his body for the day was having a lung transplant. There’s no answer to that.
The Groundhog Day-ish plot is fun to tease out, though a few of the details are baffling (I assume they were explained in the source material, a Young Adult novel by David Levithan). But there’s more going on here as well. A doesn’t just inhabit bodies, he brings something out in them; that’s how he meets Rhiannon, when he spends the day as her boyfriend Justin – and she’s happy to find Justin so atypically open and loving and sensitive, they spend a magical day at the beach together, but the next day he’s sullen and selfish again, and doesn’t remember a thing. As in Groundhog Day, there’s a spiritual element here (though religion, specifically being a Christian, is predictably mocked): A is our better nature, our potential, a guardian angel flitting through our lives, our link to some deeper humanity. A sub-plot involves Rhiannon’s dad (I assume this was also more fleshed-out in the book) who’s lost his job, had a breakdown, and now spends his days painting faces. They’re the people he sees in his mind’s eye, he explains rather cryptically: all the people we contain, perhaps – alter egos, soulmates, all the possible connections in our lives.
Every Day is a bit too pat; it does the Young Adult thing of trying to be educational, touching on ‘issues’ like gender identity (“Not everyone’s body aligns with their mind”) and teen suicide. Yet the set-up is beautifully staged, with notably romantic use of The The’s 80s classic ‘This Is the Day’, and the wide-eyed enthusiasm with which Rice – a wonderfully natural actress – embraces Rhiannon’s strange predicament is entrancing.
It’s a classic teenage dream, the yearning to connect with every person on the planet and find aspects of oneself in all of them. There’s a hope and idealism in this film that’s extremely touching, whatever one may think of the slightly reductive message behind it – though of course it’s also a great message, and finding the precise point where humanism starts to shade into the reductive (the balance between disregarding difference and actively trying to impose uniformity) isn’t something we can reasonably expect from a teen movie. “I know what makes each person different,” declares A, “and what makes everyone the same”. That’s where we came in.
DIRECTED BY Michael Sucsy
STARRING Angourie Rice, Justice Smith, Lucas Jade Zumann
US 2018 97 mins