Two Days



USA 2003 : Sean McGINLY : 87 mins

True to its ho-hum title, Two Days is a so-so, very ‘US indie’ kind of US indie comedy whose subject is the favourite topic of low-budget American film-making: low-budget American film-making itself. Though ostensibly the story of Paul Miller (Paul Rudd), a journeyman Los Angeles actor who’s decided to kill himself, the movie is really about the levels of reality that come into play when Paul decides to commit his final two days to filmed record.

He attracts the attention of an aspiring director Josh (Adam Scott) who brings along his rough-and-ready technical crew, and also of a pair of film-school students who want to compile a “making-of” documentary on the documentary. So before long McGinly is operating three sets of cameras within the same environment, switching between them to provide differing perspectives on Paul’s existential crisis and, simultaneously, the perils and limitations of the documentary process. Because the (fictional) film-makers soon realise they face a tough moral dilemma – do they allow Paul to kill himself, or intervene and thus compromise their creative objectivity?

Thankfully writer-director McGinly doesn’t allow his script to get too entangled in philosophical complexities – the tone is about as light as can be expected in a film about an impending suicide, with effective comic relief provided via Paul’s middle-class parents (Graham Beckel, Caroline Aaron), his more successful colleague Stephen (Whit Stillman regular Mackenzie Astin) and an hyper-confident old pal (Donal Logue, in a nifty one-scene cameo). Rather less successful are the movie-making in-jokes which revolve around the various film crews: Blair Witch veteran Josh Leonard does a weak Owen Wilson knock-off as the sound-man, while the film students are a fairly direct nod to Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob.

And McGinley does sometimes fall into a Charlie Kaufman-ish trap of self-reflexive indulgence : “I’d imagine people are heading for the aisles right now” someone remarks at one of the grimmer junctures. McGinley never quite gets to terms with the fundamental structural problem that his screenplay faces – like Josh, he’s moving inexorably towards one of two denouements: either Paul kills himself (“Me killing myself is the ‘cum-shot'” he notes) or not.

Rudd (who’s never looked quite so much like Ben Affleck before on screen) handles the character’s progress with skill, remaining effectively calm while the various shenanigans unspool around him, and socking over a Mulholland Dr style audition scene to show just how talented actor and character really are. But even Rudd can’t do much with the way Miller’s tale is resolved: without giving the ending away, it’s all rather fudged and bathetic, with an unwelcome dollop of unexpectedly serioso muzak presumably intended to send us all “heading for the aisle” with a tear in our eye.

19th March, 2003
(seen 1st February, Pathe Schouwburgplein, Rotterdam – Rotterdam Film Festival)

For all the reviews from the Rotterdam Film Festival click here.

by Neil Young