I have to admit up front that A Perfect Day really had me going. It had its share of problems, but I was willing to ignore them because everything still worked in spite of the problems. Then I got to the end, and all was lost. The only significant problem with A Perfect Day is its ending; sadly, its conclusion is so tragically awful that it negates everything that came before it. Maybe a few extra scenes tacked on after the denouement would have done it some good, so our last impression of the movie wouldn’t be such a mess. Alas, it ties up its loose ends and the credits roll, leaving audience members (even the ones only half-watching while they make dinner or do laundry) with stunned, baffled looks on their faces.
The ending makes this review difficult to write. I want to say, “Wow, that ending—don’t watch this movie based purely on the the fact that the last ten minutes say, ‘Hello, I’m a representative of Johnson & Johnson, and I have just wasted your time. Joke’s on you, sucker!'” At the same time, I don’t want to spoil the ending for anybody whose opinion differs from mine. So I’m just going to ignore it and concentrate on what works and what doesn’t in the rest of the film.
Rob Lowe and Paget Brewster give nice, nuanced performances as a husband and wife whose marriage breaks down over the course of the movie. Why? Well, Lowe gets fired from his job (as an ad salesman at a radio station) and decides to write a novel. His wife helps by being very supportive, insisting that things could work if she went back to work and he took care of their young daughter (Maggie Geisland, who gives a natural performance, thankfully without a trace of child-actor precociousness).
After an undisclosed amount of time, Lowe finishes the novel, which isn’t really a novel at all; it’s a barely-fictionalized telling of the last days Brewster spent with her father before he died. The film tells us it’s very poignant and well-written, but they wisely don’t attempt to show us anything from the book except its title (also the title of the film).
Lowe’s character is believably sensitive, articulate, and intelligent enough to write a novel from his wife’s perspective. He’s portrayed as a good man who really cares about his family, which is important because everything changes when he finally finds an agent (Frances Conroy) who helps him get the book published. By this time, Lowe is working for his brother digging up septic tanks. When the book sells, he’s elated. Conroy whisks him off on a book tour, and that’s when things start to go wrong.
A publicist from his publishing company (Rowena King) rushes in and snatches him away from Conroy, getting Lowe better bookings and more important publicity. Soon, his book is number one on the New York Times bestseller list. Does it go to Lowe’s head? Absolutely. When Brewster tries to bring him back down to planet Earth, he says a variety of hostile things that prompt her to leave. Lowe decides his career is more important than his family and continues jetting around the country, largely ignoring his wife and daughter.
If not for the awful ending, I’d actually suggest the movie be a bit longer. The performances do their best to keep it grounded, but the screenplay by Joyce Eliason (based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Richard Paul Evans) can only give us broad strokes. Brewster is angry; Geisland is sad; Lowe is a dick. The story tries to cover a lot of ground in two hours, and it does a serviceable job. It would just be nice to see everything taken a bit further.
Instead, the movie gets distracted with another problem: the excellent Christopher Lloyd shows up as an angel who stalks Lowe. The big turning point comes when Lloyd tells Lowe he has only 14 days to live—he’ll die on Christmas Day, unless he changes himself in an unspecified way that will make God happy. Lowe reevaluates his priorities and realizes the hollowness and solitude of his life. He returns home; Brewster’s still angry, but at least their daughter is ecstatic to see him.
Eventually Lowe confesses to Brewster that he’s going to die; he makes amends with her and his father (the underused Jude Ciccolella), and here’s where I have to admit the movie really got to me. When I think about it, the fact that an angel has to scare him into changing instead of coming to the realization himself…it’s a sad comment on Lowe’s character how believable that is. I bought into it completely, which maybe is also a sad comment on me.
At any rate, Lowe’s making amends leads to the craptacular big ending. It’s obvious, at least, that he doesn’t die, which is probably a good thing; however, everything else about the way A Perfect Day finishes is goofy and, while logical, impossible to believe. It’s too bad, because while the bulk of it isn’t perfect, it somehow manages to work anyway. It’s worth investing time in if you just turn it off at the last commercial break and make up your own ending; trust me, anything you come up with is better than the movie’s actual ending.