Before she was Felicity, Keri Russell was Erica, a sexy, flirty "walking wet dream" and the object of desire in Michael Davis' "Eight Days a Week."
The film is a slight but sweet teenage sex comedy filtered through an oddball tone similar to, say, "Better Off Dead" (one half expects to see a singing hamburger here), with young nerd Joshua Schaefer in the Cusack role. Schaefer plays Peter, who, upon advice from his nutty grandfather, decides the best way to win the heart of literal girl-next-door Erica is to spend the entire summer camped out under her bedroom window, the hope being that Erica will eventually recognize his devotion and reward him with both lifelong love and immediate sex.
Not surprisingly, "Eight Days" (which makes no mention of the Beatles song that provided its title) works better when it's being romantic than it does when it's playing the sex angle. Sure, the script's frank honesty regarding teenage sexuality is welcome, and several of the jokes do fly, but it's also a bit unsure of how to handle all the naughty bits. This was made a few years before "There's Something About Mary" and, more importantly, "American Pie" let dirty jokes be fun again at the multiplex; as such, Davis, who wrote and directed, seems hesitant to push the sexual envelope with his comedy. A running gag involving Peter's best pal Matt (R.D. Robb) investing his summer in all sorts of masturbatory adventures (and being quite candid about it) earns plenty of laughs throughout, but there's still just a hint of timidity that makes us wonder how the same film might have played out a few years later in a post-"Pie" era.
(For comparison: Matt is seen carting off a watermelon, which he plans to molest, an act which occurs entirely off camera. Jason Biggs's character in "American Pie," meanwhile, not only gets to savage a pastry on screen, but also gets to deliver a hilariously lengthy prelude scene. I'm not saying I'd have preferred to see Robb hump a melon, but I am saying that we can see Davis backing off the gross-out comedy just enough to weaken the effect.)
On the romantic side of things, however, it all clicks, thanks mainly to a highly likable turn from Schaefer. Peter's dedication, which sounds downright psychotic on paper, is actually quite adorable. It doesn't hurt that he's an endlessly nice guy all around, helping out the neighborhood kids, chatting with the crazy old lady everyone else ignores, etc. And if that's not enough, Peter's rival, Erica's jock boyfriend Nick (Johnny Green), is presented as an obnoxious jerk, "one of those macho dicks who's always checking his balls." (Davis' "down with jocks" geek power themes would return in his follow-up effort, the equally spotty-yet-charming cool-dork-in-a-girls'-dorm comedy "100 Girls.")
As there's not much steam in a movie about a guy sitting around all summer long, we're tossed a myriad of subplots, some of which are cute enough to keep us moving, others never quite click, all are designed to make the neighborhood a super-quirky environment. This quirkiness can be forced sometimes - the crazy old lady bit pays off in a late scene, but the preceding gags feel strained; there's an entire plotline playing off "Rear Window" that's plenty flimsy - and yet the better chunks of the story help balance out these clunkier moments.
In fact, while the screenplay trips over itself in figuring out a proper story, it has no problems at all creating smooth dialogue and wry narration, peppered with plenty of giddy pop culture connections (Julie Newmar as Catwoman becomes shorthand for sexy; there's an entire scene discussing the James Bond franchise) and snarky commentary on such issues as bullies, spitting, sex, and the ugly guys who populate the illustrations in sex manuals. Most of this film's delight comes from a well-turned phrase or a smartly delivered comic observation.
After stumbling around a few film festivals (including a successful run at the 1997 Slamdance), "Eight Days" finally found a home on video in early 1999 - most likely thanks to Russell's television series taking off and studios looking to nab rights to her earlier works. I'll even say that the film, with its casual pacing, mild charms, and sitcom-esque characters, probably belongs on video and not in theaters. It plays out quite well on a TV screen, making for an enjoyable evening of comedy at home.
The anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) presentation does the movie well. Any softness seen here only goes toward the film's TV-friendly style, while every now and then the colors pop to life, showing off the green of summer.
Simplicity is the key to the Dolby 2.0 stereo soundtrack. The film relies heavily on the use of alt-pop tunes (whatever happened to Dishwalla?), which come across as clearly as the dialogue. Optional English, French, and Spanish subtitles are provided.
None, except for a lonely full frame trailer which looks and sounds like it was produced for the video market (and probably appeared at the start of other Warner VHS releases of the time).
Clumsy but delightful, "Eight Days" gets you to ignore its flaws because you're too busy grinning. This one's cute, funny, and Recommended.