Small indie flicks about estranged relatives coming together via deception on behalf of one of the parties which ultimately results in a long-delayed reconciliation has become of the most basic formulas for non-studio films, which makes sense considering you could film one in the living room of a small house and produce an Oscar-winner if the script and performances are strong enough. The formula is tired, but only because directors are running it ragged based on the amount of success it produces for the ones who manage to find major commercial success. However, sometimes even the best script and performances just won’t be enough to crack the nut that is decent distribution, and a film’s entire destiny is decided by home sales. $5 a Day had an incredibly limited run despite a respectable cast of Christopher Walken, Sharon Stone, Amanda Peet, and lead Alessandro Nivola, and has taken its sweet time landing on DVD and Blu-ray, but now you can check out another entry in estranged family melodrama that ranks somewhere in the average to slightly above average category.
Flynn’s career and lovelife hit simultaneous roadblocks when his father Nat (Walken) resurfaces, resulting in the loss of his job and the departure of his girlfriend Maggie (Peet) when she discovers that she actually knows very little about Flynn’s past. Both things exit Flynn’s life for the same reason: he covered up the part of his past where he went to jail for being convicted in a con, however what the criminal record can’t tell his employer or Maggie is that Flynn didn’t deserve the punishment he received, which accounts for Nat’s insistence that he and Flynn take a road trip together so that father and son might have a chance to iron out the wrinkles that have arisen in their relationship before Nat dies of a terminal illness. That’s right, Flynn agrees to go on a road trip with his conman father because Nat insists he has a terminal illness and an x-ray to back up the story. However anyone watching the movie will immediately question, “How do we know he has an actual terminal illness?” Audiences are inherently skeptical these days, and so watching Flynn just naïvely fall in line with his father’s crazy scheme of driving cross-country in a Sweet-n-Low decorated car living off the charity and goodwill of those Nat has met in his years traveling about might be a bit hard to swallow. We haven’t even been burned by Nat’s plan gone bad and spent time in prison and we’re pretty sure the whole thing is a scam, so why would Flynn even consider it without dragging his father to a hospital and scanning the man’s head personally? We’re asked to take a leap of faith in a conman, not smile and enjoy the process from an insider’s point of view, and that’s a demand few audience members will accede to on good faith alone. But that’s all we get.
Adding to the emotional turmoil of it all is Flynn’s continual self-evaluation of who he is and how he came to be that way through the influence of his father, the recorded diary of which he leaves on Maggie’s answering machine. It’s definitely preferable to a voiceover though barely a notch above it in execution. At least it’s a mean to an end though and not just empty exposition designed to save the characters from having to reveal their past through conversation and other interactions. In that sense, the film falls into place quite well and never feels too forced. When Sharon Stone’s free-spirited character finally stumbles into the picture the road-tripping triumvirate is complete and the catalyst for some real exploration of Flynn’s daddy issues starts to work in the very predictable fashion that frequent viewers of the independent family melodrama are all too familiar with.
The film’s titular premise may be the most interesting aspect of the film, though it takes backseat to the unfolding drama between Nat and Flynn. Nat shows Flynn the importance of human contact and letting people know you for who you are with each encounter. The world seems to be Nat’s Cheers bar, wherever he goes, everybody knows his name – or, if they don’t, they will soon enough, and they’ll remember until he comes around again later. Nat fosters goodwill in everyone he meets and rewards it with small tokens of appreciation, the combined effect of which is his ability to live on $5 a day.
Blu-ray Bonus Features
There’s not much to speak of here, as a trailer, a still gallery and interviews with the director and cast are all you’ll find. The latter has a bit of entertainment value (because candid footage with Walken always does), but otherwise the disc is a one-trick pony.
"$5 a Day" is on sale August 24, 2010 and is rated PG13. Comedy, Drama. Directed by Nigel Cole. Written by Neal H. Dobrofsky, Tippi Dobrofsky. Starring Amanda Peet, Christopher Walken, Dean Cain, Sharon Stone, Alessandro Nivola.