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STUDIO: Sony Pictures
RATED: Not rated
RUNNING TIME: 91 Minutes
• Promotional trailers
“Every time a bell rings, an angel kicks you in the nuts.”
Rob Lowe, Christopher Lloyd, Frances Conroy, Paget Brewster, Jude Ciccolella, Rowena King, Kevin Dunn, the ubiquitous Larry King
Robert Harlin (Rob Lowe) is a struggling writer who suddenly hits the big time when his first novel becomes a massive bestseller. But his newfound success comes at a price, when a whirlwind book tour strains his relationship with his wife Allyson (Paget Brewster) and daughter (Meggie Geisland). As he struggles to balance work and family, a mysterious stranger (Christopher Lloyd) offers an ominous prophecy: Robert is destined to die on Christmas Day. Will Robert learn the importance of family by Christmas?
You know a movie’s in trouble when even the actors are checking their watches…
I’m glad I waited until after Christmas to watch A Perfect Day, because I’m fairly confident it would’ve single-handedly ruined my holiday. Here’s a movie that wants to be a warm and fuzzy Christmas movie in the tradition of It’s a Wonderful Life, another in a long line of stories in which a man loses sight of life’s true pleasures, encounters some sort of supernatural being who helps him learn a lesson about the importance of family and generosity, and becomes a better man as a result. From Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to Schwarzenegger’s Jingle All the Way, it’s a tried and true formula that’s as simple and as straightforward as they come. So considering how well-charted this territory is, it’s remarkable to see just how badly A Perfect Day manages to lose its way. Not only this a redemption movie about a man who is in no need of redeeming, but when that moment of epiphany finally comes, the moment when our hero finally sees the light and decides to change his ways, the movie gleefully pulls the rug out from under us. Imagine if Tiny Tim had been faking his limp the entire time, just to teach Scrooge a lesson. That’s the level of assfuckery we’re dealing with here.
Rob’s word-of-the-day calendar wasn’t even trying anymore.
This made-for-TV movie follows Robert, a newly published author who’s finding it difficult to balance his newfound success with his family life. Book tours drag him away for months at a time, and while at first his family is supportive, their time apart slowly begins to drive a wedge between him and his wife. Before you know it they’ve separated, until one day Rob learns from a mysterious stranger that he doesn’t have long to live, and realizes the importance of friends and family as he lives out his last days. This is all well and good, except for the fact that Rob clearly understood the importance of friends and family all along. The biggest flaw in this material is that even at his worst, Rob is basically a nice guy. The movie is filled with moment after moment of people trying to show him the error of his ways, when in reality the guy’s done very little wrong.
Robert’s only crime, it seems, is success. When he misses the funeral of a distant aunt because he’s already committed to speaking at a literary roundtable (one that could make or break his career, we learn), we’re supposed to hate him for it, even though it seems like a perfectly legitimate reason to me. Later, the book tour causes Robert to miss his daughter’s Thanksgiving pageant, and the movie can’t wait to judge him for it. Look at that empty seat, the movie seems to shout at us, what a bastard Rob is for missing this. And sure, it’s regrettable that he isn’t able to be there, but you can hardly blame Rob for wanting to sell copies of his book and provide for the family. It’s one thing to value family over one’s career, but it’s another thing entirely to favor your family at the expense of your career. That balancing act goes both ways.
Shit’s about to get real.
I get the distinct impression that the writers of A Perfect Day decided ahead of time that Rob and Allyson would have terrible marriage problems, and only as an afterthought did they try to come up with reasons why. The punishment doesn’t seem to fit the crime here: "Missed his daughter’s recital" doesn’t quite cut it as justification to throw a guy out of the house, unless it’s somehow symptomatic of a larger problem. That’s not the case here: The entire break-up feels extremely forced, as the film desperately tries to artificially inject conflict into situations where it doesn’t belong, just for the sake of serving the plot.
Maybe I’m just a big Scrooge myself. Maybe I need a good talking-to from a ghost or an angel or something, about the importance of family. But I don’t think so. Take the Christopher Lloyd character, the mysterious man who appears out of nowhere, knowing a surprising amount about Rob and his life and predicting certain doom if Rob doesn’t change his ways. The character only exists to pass judgment on Rob, occasionally appearing to chastise him like some kind of spiritual schoolmarm. Who is he? How does he know so much? Is he an angel? A psychic? A time-traveling scientist with detailed files from the future? The real answer is far less interesting, not to mention less plausible.
Lloyd’s character is supposed to serve as the moral conscience of the film, but when his prediction of Rob’s imminent doom turns out to be totally fraudulent (hardly a spoiler, since no Christmas movie would dare end with the central character’s grisly death), it adds a level of duplicity to Christopher Lloyd’s character that the movie glosses right over. This is your moral center? This character who, as it turns out, has been lying the entire time? It’s too bad, because Lloyd gives a really nice performance as the mysterious stranger, taking a character that could’ve easily come off as a manipulative, self-righteous buzzkill and making him relatively likeable in spite of everything. I’m sure some of his likability is due to residual Doc Brown appeal, since he basically appears out of nowhere to warn Rob Lowe about the terrible fate that’s in store for him. Call him the Ghost of Christmas Back to the Future.
"My credentials? I’m wearing a white coat and a stethoscope around my neck, what more do you want?"
Rob Lowe is passable as Robert, though if he had played the character with a little less compassion and a little more ambition – a little more Scrooge-like, in other words – the film might’ve been made a lot more effective. You have to wonder to what degree this was a script problem, and to what degree it was just a case of Rob Lowe not wanting to come off like a dick.
Paget Brewster holds her own as Allyson, Rob’s wife. She’s essentially playing a character who encourages her husband to follow his dream of being a writer, then becomes an unlikable shrew once he does, so all things considered Brewster acquits herself nicely here. The entire second half of A Perfect Day is filled with scenes where Allyson is crying or angry or hurt, and Paget Brewster does a great job always making these scenes believable, even if her character’s reasons for being upset don’t quite seem justified.
In the end, whatever simplistic moral the movie is trying to put forth is undercut when the ending reveals that Rob’s revelation is built entirely upon lies and deceptions and invasions of privacy, all perpetrated by his friends and family. Rob’s minor sins pale in comparison to the one major sin at the end of the film, one that’s perpetrated upon him in the name of "teaching him a lesson". I hope one day a sequel to A Perfect Day is made, where an angel appears and teaches every character besides Rob their own lesson: that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Though they do get a good look up Mrs. Claus’s dress.
No extras at all, aside from a few promotional trailers. Whatever happened to the spirit of giving?
"Merry Christmas, you wacky Gentiles!"
4.0 out of 10