Wednesday is a story told in four segments, all about terrible losses suffered on the same day of the week. Hump Day, as it were, the day you have to get over to carry on. There is Luke and Lucy, a troubled couple who can't seem to find a way to share their considerable pain; Harold, an older man who has alienated everyone who has been important to him and who is convinced he is damned to a life in purgatory; Norma, the single mother in a dead-end job who just received word that the father of her children has died; and a final component that brings the rest together.
First-time writer/director Justin D. Hilliard has structured his script so that all the stories happen simultaneously, cutting back and forth between the various narrative scenarios so that as they unspool, the events of each can be juxtaposed against the other. This is particularly effective in the case of Luke and Lucy vs. Harold. Luke (Ryan C. Hurst) seems determined to make the same mistakes Harold (Philip Goldacre) has made, and when the older man tells a random hotel bellhop not to take his love for granted, you wish he could step over and tell the same thing to the younger man. Both men are haunted by something in their past that will not be named. Harold did something to make his daughter, who has just passed, despise him, whereas Luke's father did something to drive Luke away. Luke's father has also just died, and the son returns home to confront what he left behind. Lucy (Arianne Martin) follows to try to support her boyfriend, but the overwhelming negativity couples with her own secret to send her running home. Interestingly, not knowing Luke's secret makes it a lot harder to like him, while being ignorant of Harold's indiscretion allows us to have compassion for him. It's a tricky play on our perceptions. Luke is all raw nerves and anger, and because we aren't sure why, he comes off as a selfish jerk. Harold wants to do right, and so his sins are no longer relevant. This gives both men entirely different walls to climb to find the new beginnings they seek.
Wednesday is shot on digital video, and that fact also has an interesting effect on how the film might be viewed. Shot in natural light, Wednesday has the unpolished look of reality. For me, it often feels like I am watching the raw material, a rough draft, as opposed to the finished product. While this means the film's flaws are right up front, it also softens their impact somehow. Perhaps the fact that I can't forget that there are people behind what I am seeing makes me more willing to look past the errors and see the earnestness that lies on the other side. (If that weren't enough, Hilliard and his producer, Ryan Hartsell, have put a heartfelt intro on the film; truth be told, I'd have much preferred that being exclusively an extra than loading up as I started the main feature.) This is an entirely independent release, and it often shows.
Most of the missteps do come out of the good intentions of first timers. There is a tendency to oversell in Wednesday. Early on, there are too many jump cuts and quick flashes of memory. It makes for a feeling of forced artiness that is only compounded by the ever-present musical score. DV automatically lends a movie the air of cinema verite, and if we're going to talk that style, then we can't avoid Jean-Luc Godard. He teaches some valuable lessons in how to handle sound and, more importantly, silence. Wednesday could use more silent moments.
Even so, there is a hypnotic quality to these first two stories (titled "Luke & Lucy" and "Purgatory"). The sense of despair and yearning is hard fought and mostly won. Harold's story is the most successful of the two, as he reconnects with his ex-wife (Adrienne Marks) and seeks actual redemption. Both Goldacre and Marks appear very comfortable on film, and it's a welcome change of pace to see characters of their age having bona fide life experiences. Erich Redman (United 93) plays Virgil, who serves as a guiding chorus for Harold, drawing comparisons between Harold's journey and the poet Dante's expedition through the Inferno. It adds a quirky counterbalance to Harold's heavy emotion. That said, the long shots of Harold walking through a stony labyrinth could probably be dropped. It overstates the allusion.
The acting in "Luke & Lucy" is a lot less consistent. Martin is strong at playing the put-upon girlfriend, but Hurst is real up and down. When he's brooding quietly, he seems to be straining to feel it. He's much better when the emotion gets bigger, such as when he's having it out with his mother when he first arrives at home.
It's the other half of Wednesday where the real problems start to occur. The story of Norma (Holly Leach) is entitled "Lyrics of a Lowly Life." It had the potential to be the best of the stories, or at the very least, a more hopeful counterweight to the other two. It has a different rhythm, signaled by the guitar-based music in its scenes. The death in Norma's life offers a more instantaneous new beginning: the man she considered worthless when he was alive apparently turned out to be worth some cash after he was dead. Packing her two girls into the car, Norma heads off to the funeral.
Only, she never gets there. The fourth story, "Narcissus Flower," crashes in, and it stops "Lyrics of a Lowly Life" in its tracks. There is no resolution for Norma, and for the rest of Wednesday, we follow a new metafictional track. It's the last chapter on the DVD, and so only covers the last fifteen minutes or so of the movie, but it's a colossal misstep. While Hilliard's intentions in taking this left turn are genuine, it ends up selling the rest of his movie short. Beyond leaving the viewer unsatisfied after interrupting Norma's narrative, it leaves a question mark hanging over the entirety of Wednesday. Meta devices in stories are notoriously difficult to pull off; they're no longer new, and so they can appear to be pretentious cheats. Unfortunately, such is the case with "Narcissus Flower."
This final segment introduces us to two new lovers, Julian and Maggie. Julian (Frank Mosley) is the one person in the movie more self-absorbed than Luke, and since he controls the narrative flow, we don't get a bead on Maggie. When it's pointed out to him that his behavior is narcissistic, it's meant to be ironic, but the true irony may be that the whole movie has tumbled into its own reflection.
Forgiving that last error in judgment, Wednesday is an interesting glimpse at raw talent blooming. Though very rough in patches, there is enough to warrant a viewing, just maybe with your finger on the stop button so you can get out before the film makes a wrong turn. Hopefully, Justin D. Hilliard has gotten his growing pains all worked out, because I'd like to see his second feature pay off on the promises of the first.
Shot on digital video, Wednesday is shown in full frame with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The transfer is well done, catching all the detail of the original footage. It definitely has a raw, lo-fi look, but that's the nature of such an endeavor.
Wednesday has a stereo sound mix. The filmmakers do their best with the audio, all of which was captured live, but it's far from perfect. The levels change based on the camera position, and sometimes there are obvious noises from the microphone being exposed to the open environment. Know that going in, however, and you'll be fine.
There are a couple of extras on the DVD. One is the aforementioned filmmaker introduction. Like I said, I wish this hadn't come on automatically when I started the movie, but it's only about 30 seconds long, so it at least goes by quick. The other feature is, unfortunately, painfully long. "The Real Julian and Maggie" is the script from "Narcissus Flower" being read by Hilliard and his real-life ex-girlfriend, Nicole Gray (who also receives story credit on Wednesday). As Hilliard explains, some of the script is based on their relationship, and so when he ran into Gray while they were shooting "Purgatory" in London, it seemed like some weird twist of fate. This unedited footage is part of some kind of reconciliation, and it's one camera in Gray's apartment, running unmanned as the two read through the screenplay--some scenes several times in a row. It's tough to watch, partially because it's boring and partially because it seems far too personal to be sharing. I can't tell if it's a case of self-flagellation, obsession, or once again, the same narcissism being discussed in the script. How about we lump all three under the umbrella of "youthful indiscretion"?
Rounding out the disc is the trailer for Wednesday.
Wednesday gets a rating just this side of Recommended. It certainly lacks polish, but it's a noble independent effort. Though the filmmakers fly too close to the sun and fall before the closing credits roll, they manage to tap into some honest emotion prior to losing their way. Take it as a glimpse of a director of tomorrow getting his start today, and Wednesday's flaws stop being a problem and become just the natural byproduct of a do-it-yourself aesthetic. Raw in both methodology and emotion, Wednesday lingers. In this age of disposable entertainment, take that as a high compliment.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.