2015 Los Angeles Film Festival
Directed by Zoe R. Cassavetes [Broken English (2013)] and co-written with her friend Landeau, the story begins with a fresh-faced and sweet-voiced Mia interviewed on camera just as her career is taking off. Fast forward twenty years. Dozens of red carpet premieres later, Mia’s status descends to tinsel town commoner driving a broken down car. And that’s the least of the indignities she faces. No longer sent out for plum roles, she drives up Sunset to the Chateau Marmont for a meeting with a touchy-feely European director, a leather-gloved lothario named Dag (Eddie Izzard).
Yes, he’s a creep but up to a certain point, she has to take it if she wants to work. Mia has a shelf full of awards but in that regard, she’s no different from a female night janitor with a bad boss. Izzard (rhymes with lizard) brings some wacked-out humor to the part and Cassavetes cuts the scene before it fully plays out. Still, the power dynamic is clear.
Mia’s hot streak in town has cooled and she appears to accept the fact. She isn’t Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard (1950), living in the past. She’s ready to apply her knowledge and experience to more “mature” roles. However, good parts just aren’t there for an actress over forty. In a reversal of All About Eve (1950), a young friend (Libby Mintz) sincerely tries to bring Mia along to play her mother when her series gets picked up. The director (Guy Burnet) tells her she’s a “kooky, hot mom,” and to rev up “the funny.”
Another huge problem for the actress in early middle age is the unwritten rule that the woman must always be visibly younger than the man in a romantic situation. Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford and Dustin Hoffman, to name a few, remain leading men into their sixties and seventies. Even with the “cougar” trend, pairing an actress with an appreciably younger man makes producers and casting directors uneasy. In Searching for Debra Winger (2002), Rosanna Arquette interviewed several prominent women about the state of the industry back then. What they had to say was disheartening and most would agree that things have only gotten worse. In Days the career of Mia’s former husband Liam (Alessandro Nivola) is on the rise as hers is stalling.
So, what’s a girl to do? The Lana Clarkson homicide is an extreme and tragic case yet worth mentioning. At forty, still beautiful but with diminishing options, she was working as a night club hostess when she met Phil Spector. Only Spector knows what really happened. A jury didn’t buy his version of events.
Writing in The Hollywood Reporter, Jon Frosch criticized Cassavetes as working “too smugly within her comfort zone.” The director’s familiarity with the Los Angeles milieu is a strength of the film. As I alluded to in the title, she’s daughter of John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands. Mia is reminiscent of Mabel, the character Rowlands played in A Woman Under the Influence (1974), always on the verge of a breakdown.
The young innocent from the opening sequence haunts the rest of Days like the ghost of Christmas past. Mia’s dependent mother Kathy (Melanie Griffith) provides a constant reminded of an unhappy future. Seeing Ann Malone (Laureen Landon) Mia’s former television Mom, is another sad glimpse of what’s in store.
Frosch writes: “Between rendezvous, we see Mia driving or walking the streets of Hollywood looking dazed, with French duo Scratch Massive’s angsty electro score reinforcing the dreamy, anesthetized monotony of her existence.” It’s a first effort for cinematographer Denise Milford and a good one. She and Cassavetes keep things sunny and bright even as Mia’s life begins to disintegrate. The supporting cast is excellent, including familiar faces Vincent Kartheiser (Mad Men) and Ione Skye.