...with a quick look at UPN's TV movie Life in a Day, which airs on said network Thursday May 2O.
UPN is making a mistake advertising Life in a Day as if it is just another one of the network's legendarily unfortunate Thursday Night Movies - this film is substantially better than most of its unholy brethren. Occasionally uneven...and by no means perfect...Life in a Day consistently manages to be better than it probably should have been all things considered, thanks in no small part to Rick Drew's smartly paced and uncompromisingly gritty script...a few solid anchor performances which keep the proceedings grounded in a real world, "everyman" sensibility...and Eleanor Lindo's bold (if dizzying) directing.
Life in a Day finds youthful, genius scientist Peter Hamilton (Emmy and Golden Globe Award winner Michael Goorjian) besieged by university benefactors who are pressuring him to streamline the testing of a drug called X-CELL-RATE.
X-CELL-RATE is a mega-drug engineered to speed along the natural developmental processes of living things. So, for example, a pregnancy can happen over night instead of over nine months. The university is eager to hop in bed with bigtime corporate financiers, and are pressuring Hamilton towards more cursory testing of this miracle drug. But the scientist finds himself at odds with these people - as no "governing agent" has been isolated to control X-CELL-RATE's effects. In other words, an organism can be set on a vastly accelerated developmental path by the drug, but there are no means to reign in said organism's accelerated growth. As such, it would be possible for this organism to live "a life in a day" unless the suitable governing agent is both engineered and applied.
The wicked, horrific results of this un-governed growth is graphically depicted in the movie's opening sequences, in which a young couple rocket through a snow storm in their little car - her screaming in agony, clutching at her bloated & impregnated belly. We quickly understand this isn't an ordinary labor - the end results of which produces a baby named Jasmine.
Jasmine is, literally, left in Hamilton's lab while he's away at a university function. At first he is not sure who the child is, or what she's all about. As the young girl evolves multiple years in several hours...and clearly possess an innate intellectual capacity to accompany her accelerated growth. He believes that somehow, for some reason, ungoverned X-CELL-RATE has been used in her conception. Who did this...and why...is the central thrust of the movie's opening half-hour.
But before long, Life in a Day becomes something of a cross between The Fugitive, Blade Runner, and Romeo and Juliet as Hamilton and his associates are implicated and pursued by police eager to bring closure to the bizarre and grizzly demise of Jasmine's mother - while finding themselves caught in something of a university-lead conspiracy. All of this goes down as a rapidly evolving Jasmine struggles to: a) understand what is happening to her; b) find a way to slow her development; and c) live life as fully as she can in the briefest time possible - as she may not have a tomorrow to look forward to.
Goorjian is wonderful as the beleaguered and lonely scientist whose humdrum life is suddenly turned upside down by all kinds of hell in a twenty-four hour period. The events in this film are portrayed as something of a "rite of passage" for him - we sense he's moving from one level to the next while facing all the troubles which come his way in the movie.
Linda Kash is sexy and solid as his (proverbial) partner-in-crime, and the numerous actresses cast as Jasmine (Chandra West having the most screen time) are universally enchanting (the younger girls are even somewhat chilling in their maturity). Alas, some secondary characters are a bit one-dimensional and uninspired, one of them (Wayne Best as the hot-headed detective hot on the trail of "the truth" surrounding Jasmine's birth) comes perilously close to sinking the boat on several occasions. Many of the performances surrounding Best are restrained and carefully measured, which serves only to amplify the angry, bitter, macho posturing Best seethes through most of the movie - to the point of ludicrous caricature.
Persumably, The Powers That Be insisted on pumping-up Best's performance somewhere along the line, sensing Drew's script might have needed an discernible antagonist amidst a story whose main enemies would otherwise have consisted of esoteric notions and heady moral issues. In grand Hollywood tradition, doing this only served to dampen or negate the quality and intelligence which were the film's most notable strengths. An age old...and very delicate...juggling act, and someone dropped the ball when thinking this one through.
Eleanor Lindo's directing walks a fine line between heroic, insane, and gimmicky - and is clearly heavily influenced by the psychedelic experimentation with which Oliver Stone has been dabbling of late (Natural Born Killers, U-Turn). None the less, common sense and a clear vision of what this experimentation was to accomplish lends the movie a sense of energy and urgency which might not otherwise have been present. There is a feeling that time counts here, and on several occasions, the directing and editing (Robert Lower) of Life in a Day makes one remember that our characters are against the clock (Jasmine's accelerated attrition), the adventure is a bit surreal, and our people are actually feeling the moments they are in.
A few examples: as passions (or anger) in some scenes escalate, certain lines (not just single words) are frequently re-edited together....very quickly & from varying angles...to accentuate a particular thought. At first, this Max Headroom-like looping effect is jarring, but its use actually integrates into the narrative quite well when all is said and done. On several occasions, travel time is dramatically abbreviated by chopping out the "A-Z" downtime of action: so a character may be seen pulling up to a building in a car...CUT....the car is parked, its door just starts to swing open...CUT...the driver is at the front door of a house, knocking...CUT...we're inside the house, the driver is entering the room, and the narrative continues at a normal pace.
All of these techniques could have easily backfired if used too frequently, were shot or edited improperly, etc. - but they are deftly applied here, and serve the film's best interest both texturally and narrativly. Also, such efforts are a welcomed contrast to the uninspired, run-of-the-mill "point and shoot" approaches so frequently applied to television movies of the week.
Life in a Day isn't a seamless film. As alluded above, even some of its technical strengths take a bit of getting used to - and some of its supporting and periphery characters never quite manage to raise the film's rather unspectacular sub-plots (involving police investigation and conspiracy) out of the inherent tar pit such threads usually create. But LIAD has a lot going for it: some interesting (and conflicting) ideas about modern science are well explored; many of the principle performances are both top-notch and well written; the film's photography (Robert Steadman) is sharp - the snowy, desolate settings nicely contrasting against the decidedly war human story the movie is trying to tell; Drew's script doesn't always take the easy way out and even has a few surprises thrown in.
There's a lot going on in Life in a Day, there's a a lot to like. Most refreshingly, some care, heart, soul, and effort were clearly exerted towards making this movie something that's better than average (considering the quality of most TV movies these days) - thus better than it had to be. And...chances are...you may even find yourself thinking about Life in a Day after the closing credits roll. Not just about the lives of those on-screen, but about life itself: how one should never take it for granted, and how easy it is to do so...