Painfully mediocre “A Perfect Day” squanders its all-star cast with an uneven screenplay
On the surface, A Perfect Day has a lot going for it: an all-star cast led by Academy Award winner Benicio Del Toro (Traffic, The Usual Suspects, Che, this year's Sicario), a source material in the novel “Dejarse Llover” by Paula Farias, as well as a decorated Spanish writer-director, Fernando León de Aranoa (Mondays in the Sun) at the helm. The film had the perfect ingredients to be a swell time at the movies. But similarly with baking (or so I’ve read), great ingredients does not a good cake make.
The story of A Perfect Day follows a team of aid workers, led by Del Toro’s stock tough-guy-with-heart-of-gold character Mambrú, as they navigate through the treacherous areas of war-torn Balkans and tedious UN red-tape to provide clean water to a remote community. Again, this sounds like a premise that promises rich storytelling and insight, a promise that the film fails to deliver on.
Over the course of the film, it becomes clear that A Perfect Day really, really wants to be both a comedy and a drama, but struggles to find the right balance between the two. The film never recovers from this dilemma, and ultimately comes to this excruciatingly dull middle ground that is neither entertainingly comedic nor dramatically poignant.
One of the most obvious weaknesses of this film lies with its underwhelming script. This being León de Aranoa’s English-language debut outing, the screenplay (co-written by the director himself) is tonally uneven, riddled with contrived plot points and thinly drawn characters. The few successful jokes in the film rely too heavily on the charms of its main performers. The highly capable cast (Tim Robbins, Olga Kurylenko, Melanie Thierry, Fedja Stukan) do best they can with what they are given, but ultimately appear floundering with the cardboard cut-out characters and wooden dialogue they’ve been saddled with.
The most frustrating thing about this film is that occasionally, it would show glimpses of what could have been interesting routes that it could have gone down on: On the way to solving their main crisis, the aid workers encounter a local boy, Nikola (Eldar Residovic, one of the more capable child actors), who leads them to his abandoned village. There is ample drama and social commentary about the harsh realities of growing up in a war zone ready to be mined here, especially with the set up regarding the disappearance of Nikola’s parents as a twist in the narrative. But instead, A Perfect Day sidelines this storyline to an inconsequential B-plot, with an inexplicably nonsensical ending that is only meant to serve the character non-growth of its main protagonist.
It feels as if the film wants to have its cake and eat it too (I’m taking this baking analogy all the way to the bank, baby), by overstuffing the narrative with superfluous dead-end storylines only to culminate in the most surface level anti-war sentiment and UN criticism as its overall “message”.
But look, it’s not all bad. The charm of the film’s affable cast kept it from being a complete drag to sit through, as Robbins, Thierry, and Stukan expertly nail and elevate the humour in the film with their delightful on-screen chemistry with each another. It is also gorgeous to look at: Leon de Aranoa is a skilled visual director, and with the help of cinematographer Alex Catalán, presents a film that, if anything, is at least visually engaging and sweepingly beautiful on screen.