"Every Day," starring Liev Schreiber and Helen Hunt, is an intimate, often uncomfortable, sometimes whimsical look at a sandwich marriage — those midlife couples caught between growing kids and aging parents with no time for themselves. So a comedy of manners this is not.
Instead writer-director Richard Levine ( "Nip/Tuck") is concerned with lives derailed by ordinary events. Schreiber's Ned is the center of this crumbling universe and the one being buried by the weight of his world. His teenage son (Ezra Miller) is gay and just finding his footing, at the same time his ailing father-in-law ( Brian Dennehy) is moving in and his frustrated wife (Hunt) is barely coping. Ned also is dealing with a juicy co-worker ( Carla Gugino) who is flirting and a crazy boss ( Eddie Izzard) who's never satisfied.
What makes this intriguing, yet woefully uneven film so relatable is that there is nothing about Ned's experience that seems extreme. Thoreau's "lives of quiet desperation" line comes to mind.
The unraveling officially begins with the arrival of Dennehy's Ernie, a big man, now wheelchair bound, irascible and still at odds with his daughter, Hunt's careworn Jeannie. To make room for Ernie, 14-year-old Jonah (affectingly played by Miller) and younger brother Ethan (Skyler Fortgang) are forced to bunk together. But that is just what starts the deep ripple effect of his arrival.
Levine begins teasing out the existing strains of the relationships, using that to propel the action. Set in New York with Ned split between work in the city and life in the burbs, cinematographer Nancy Schreiber ("Your Friends & Neighbors," "Serious Moonlight") intensifies the distance between them — moving in close to capture the claustrophobia at home, and pulling back to create space and breathing room at work, with Ned awash in open space as things heat up with Robin (Gugino).
Ned is a don't-rock-the-boat kind of guy and in Liev Schreiber the filmmaker has a classic boat rocker, so the smiles and shrugs don't fit him so well.
Hunt and Dennehy are good as father and daughter forced to make accommodations after a lifetime of things not working out. They create small, fleeting moments of connection, masterfully — Jeannie warming Ernie's feet with her hands, an impromptu picnic on a wind-whipped day. It's been years since Hunt was in anything as memorable on screen as 1997's "As Good as It Gets," still the best of her post-"Mad About You" work. "Every Day" comes as a reminder of her talent for understatement, and a wish to see more of her.
In fairness that sense of understatement infuses the film. Given that Levine has spent most of his time in the talkie world of TV, he's made a clear decision to see how far silence can take him here, letting the issues simmer rather than erupt into long rants. It's a bold choice that works more than it fails, especially in the scenes between Ned and Jonah — both father and son uneasy with how life is unfolding but finding comfort in the other's presence.
It is when Ned's at the office that you feel the echoes of "Nip/Tuck" most strongly. The filmmaker's made the character in his own image, a TV writer struggling to keep his head above water that's teeming with sharks. The most ruthless is Izzard's Garrett, with the British comic excellent as the show's executive producer with a nasty bite and always looking for more blood. That Ned spends long hours rewriting is no accidental metaphor.
Ultimately the film is about the distances between people and the connections that bind them. Where the story suffers is in integrating those two experiences — the transitions are bumpy at best, not believable at worst. Still the flaws are not fatal and the story's worth telling. After all, you can spot couples like Ned and Jeannie nearly every day.
MPAA rating: R for sexual content, language and some drug material
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Playing: At Laemmle's Sunset 5, West Hollywood; South Coast Village, Santa Ana