Michael Winterbottom is as varied a director as he is prolific. In just the last few years, he has directed a sweeping Indian epic (Trishna), a rollicking road trip comedy (The Trip), a globalization documentary (The Shock Doctrine), and a violent Hollywood crime drama (The Killer Inside Me). So it's no surprise that his latest, Everyday, is a divergence from any of these films, as well as different from much of anything that's been done lately at all.
Set in rural England, Everyday is the story of the difficulties a family must face when the patriarch is imprisoned, leaving his wife to provide for their four young children. With a short prison term of only a few years, the promise of the father's release looms as constant, yet represents a good chunk of time to be away from his family. What's most innovative about the movie is that it's actually filmed over the years the father would be away, checking back in with the family every few months. We quite literally see the kids grow up right in front of our eyes.
The visiting sessions serve as the backbone of the narrative, with less time devoted to what is going on while apart. Though we often follow the father back to his cell and spend some time with the children at school, we are mostly away from the lives of the characters while the family is separated. This heightens the sense of absence, bringing us deeper into the psyche of the characters.
While all four of the child actors are siblings (aged as young as 4 at the beginning), none are related to Shirley Henderson and John Simm who play the parents. It is remarkable that such young children not only mostly avoid looking at the camera, but are able to give such moving performances. The first time the youngest boy's eyes fill with tears upon seeing his father, I was convinced this was a real reunion between father and son. The relationship between the two adults also sings of honest chemistry.
Probably closest in style to Winterbottom's 9 Songs, both in its episodic nature and verité look, Everyday is far from the director's prettiest picture. As the film progresses, the quality of the digital photography does as well. Winterbottom confirmed this stylistic decision was intentional, actually admitting the effect ended up being less noticeable than he had hoped. This approach is emblematic of Winterbottom's filmmaking and this film in particular: always apt to trying innovative things. Even though some things may not work, they are always interesting and enough of his hits land to go along with him.
This is a tiny, minimalist story and Winterbottom is methodical about never over-dramatizing. The drama, and, thus, the emotion, comes from the very real and never manipulated-feeling scenarios. Whether it's the temptation of an affair or the hurried passion of a conjugal reunion, the decisions ring of how real people would act given the circumstances. This makes for an intriguing and refreshing way to tell a story.