“Considering the limitless possibilities of its logline, Michael Sucsy’s Every Day stays disappointingly close to the safe and expected.”
by Ken Bakely
Considering the limitless possibilities of its logline, Michael Sucsy’s Every Day stays disappointingly close to the safe and expected. This is, after all, a fantasy of the purest intent, wrapped in the emotional drive of the high school movie, and garnished with all the fatalistic trappings that the teen genre is so fond of. So why is it so afraid to explore its own plot? Based on the young adult novel by David Levithan, the movie introduces us to A, an amorphous entity that travels a limited area (it happens to be suburban Baltimore at the moment). Every 24 hours, they inhabit the body of a randomly chosen person as old as they’ve been roaming the earth (currently around 16 years), and experience life through their eyes. Sometimes A can try and lay the groundwork for great personal improvement, but when tomorrow comes, it’s time to move on.
It’s possible that the story is too abstractly conceptual to be filmed. The Levithan novel is told from the perspective of the spirit, incorporating the wisdom they would accumulate through such a wide array of racial, gender, and social identities. Jesse Andrews’s screenplay adaptation has its hand forced in the transition to the medium of film, and has to choose a proxy to channel this setting. It comes in the form of Rhiannon (Angourie Rice), an girl whose first encounter with A comes when they take over the body of her apathetic boyfriend Justin (Justice Smith). He becomes expressive and open in an uncharacteristic way, and while the people around A always have to unknowingly perform all the heavy lifting of filling in the details, the entity becomes fascinated with Rhiannon: her complicated home life, her personality, her receptiveness. Through each new incarnation, A finds a way to connect with Rhiannon, and she gradually figures out what’s going on.
This metaphysical bond opens up a possible wealth of musings on the nature of love and the trappings of human physicality versus our shared intellectual and emotional desires. Though Sucsy brings nothing except complete sincerity and integrity to the proceedings, and his cast is game to sell even the most minimal of moments between Rhiannon and the various incarnations of A, Every Day rarely moves beyond lip service to what’s possible. In other words, it plays like a YA version of that great John Mulaney joke about your body simply being a weird vessel that carries your head from room to room. Entire scenes exist only to provide exposition on A’s history and the rules of their existence, managing both to throw off the pacing and only provide us more chances to think about what might have been.
It’s only by the time the third act rolls around that the script realizes sustained tension and introspection. A inhabits the body of the sensitive and thoughtful Alexander (Owen Teague). His life is filled with promise, and A’s bond with Rhiannon never having been stronger, the spirit wonders if it would be possible to stay in this body forever. The film pushes back, questioning the ethics of stealing someone’s life away from them, and what it would mean to stunt A’s own nature. Yet the runtime is almost up by then, and it’s all dashed away in a conclusion that manages to be both unsatisfying in its abruptness, and augmented by an outrageous final plot development that embraces a sense of shallow impulsivity that the movie has otherwise been critiquing for the prior half-hour. Every Day ends on a mixed signal, similar to the sourest moments from its collected efforts. How it approaches permission, empathy, and the idea of destiny vary, seemingly based what will allow it to squeeze out another montage filmed during the golden hour.
It didn’t have to be this way, and it’s clear that Sucsy and company understand that. The moments in which Every Day lets its intellect guide its wildest ambitions, rather than a jumbled inversion, are genuinely affecting. A critic I know, who liked the movie more than I, has written about its ability to convey corporeality as a prison, and mentioned it could make an unconventional double feature with Bergman’s Persona. I see where he’s coming from. There’s a real deal hidden beneath the clutter. It’s a story about our shared personhood and our relationships transcending skin-deep conceits like gender, race, and body size. If only it actually lived in its philosophy, rather than reverting to social media-esque quotes and GIF sets for show. When taking Rice’s complex and humane performance into consideration, as she navigates Rhiannon’s uncertain future, we can see a great movie trying to get out. She understands what the story means to say, and what it does say in its most maturely realized moments. But then the script denies its own core, diverts away from its warm fantasy world, and returns to a frustrating buffer zone.