On the way to a wedding five or six years ago, I bought a CD to take with me, and I spent most of the trip thinking about a girl and listening to the CD over and over. Anytime I cue up the music on my iTunes today, I'm immediately whisked back to that trip; it's ingrained in my memory of the experience. It elevates the music -- which I doubt most people would consider "good" -- to a personal level, even years later. Where the Day Takes You reminds me of that CD. Personally, it's a slightly-above-average drama with a good performance or two, but I imagine it means more to some people for the same reasons that music is important to me.
My guess is, the most enticing thing to a modern audience about Where the Day Takes You will probably be the chance to see an ensemble of famous actors in the up-and-coming stages of their careers. Dermot Mulroney, Sean Astin, Lara Flynn Boyle and Balthazar Getty lead the charge, with Kyle MacLachlan, Alyssa Milano, David Arquette, Ricki Lake and future mega-star Will Smith in supporting roles and Christian Slater and Adam Baldwin making brief appearances. Most of them play a group of loners and drifters in the Los Angeles area, led by King (Mulroney), who is just finishing up a three-month prison stint. They wander around town, begging for money, trying to entertain themselves and avoid authority while each dealing with their own personal problems and addictions.
The DVD cover for Where the Day Takes You has a couple of quotes claiming the film's gritty reality is shocking, but I think only adults shielding themselves to the way things are would be taken aback by any of the movie's content. I realize the movie's nearing its 20th anniversary, and I'm part of the everything's-accessible internet generation, but I'm rarely shocked by even the most extreme cinematic sights. I'm 23 now, maybe once I hit 30, my idea of the way things are will be set, and every cultural shift from then on will rile my delicate sensibilities. Until then, my problem with films like these is that there's always at least one character, usually the protagonist or a sidekick, who's just a little too smug when it comes to their revelations about "life". Where the Day Takes You employs an "interview" device where an unseen person (Laura San Giacomo) talks to King about his daily experiences, and the film dances on that line between wise and holier-than-thou know-it-all, just barely landing in the right camp thanks to Mulroney's generally optimistic attitude.
These kinds of films are also generally trapped between a rock and a hard place when it comes to the plot. Personally, I like movies that are more about atmosphere and the company of the characters (like Stranger Than Paradise, for example), but those kinds of films are rarely made. Thus, we have to have some sort of plot, and the writers have to choose whether to lean towards a "happy" ending that runs the risk of sugarcoating the environment they've painstakingly recreated or go with the traditional, problematic "dark" ending, which usually ends up mired in melodramatics and predictability. Having explained them, I can't really say which one Where the Day Takes You goes for, lest I spoil the movie, but a short patch during the middle to end of the second act where the movie looks like it's going in a different direction is much more interesting; ultimately, the movie doesn't bring anything I felt was new to the table.
Of that ensemble cast, the strengths really start at the top and go on down, but Sean Astin stands out as Greg, a meth addict whose addictions are threatening to break him. Ultimately, the character's arc during the third act wasn't as good as I was hoping, but Astin's twitchy, needy user act never devolves into caricature and you really feel for the character. Peter Dobson (looking and sounding like Craig Bierko) plays a villain named Tommy Ray that has a standing beef with King. The performance is good, but it's never really clear exactly what the issue between the two characters is; more emphasis on the rivalry could have helped to drive the plot.
In the end, there isn't anything wrong with Where the Day Takes You, it just didn't grab me the way it might have grabbed someone else. Like my CD, at some point, the film stopped being a film and became more of a time capsule, a captured moment where a piece of art was saying the same thing as some viewers were thinking. If you're not one of those people, then maybe this isn't the film for you, but to those who were, I may not agree, but I know how you feel.
I'm officially stating that the "box collage" is the new the bane of the movie poster/DVD cover industry. It may feel more "designed" than floating heads, but it's the same principle; this orange-tone grid of faces and places doesn't stand out or leap off the shelf at the viewer. This one gets a few more potential points, because closer inspection reveals street names written on the lines between the boxes, but I don't live in California, so I don't know if the design forms a legitimate map or if the text is just tossed on to fill up space. The back cover is more little boxes hyping the movie's famous cast members, the disc has black paint lettering on the silver disc surface, and there is no insert inside the Eco-Box case. A sticker informs the potential customer that this is an out-of-print cult hit.
The Video and Audio
Sony originally released Where the Day Takes You on DVD in a 1.33:1 full screen presentation. Although this new 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation, courtesy of Anchor Bay, is ever-so-slightly cropped from 1.85:1, the difference is almost unnoticeable, and fans should be thrilled to finally have the movie in the intended aspect ratio. Unfortunately, that's where the positives end. This is a muddy, washed out, depth-free, likely decade-old master slathered in distracting, gaudy edge enhancement. Immediately, the white-text-on-black-screen opening titles reveal a thick, dispiriting ring of artifacts and haloing surrounding the lettering's jagged edges, and the difference between the intercut VHS footage and main story is, of course, noticeable, but not as drastic as it should be. I wasn't expecting Where the Day Takes You to leap off the screen in Blu-Ray-era clarity and the non-OAR, out-of-print disc probably doesn't look much better, but this still just isn't a good transfer.
Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo is unremarkable. It doesn't sound crisp, but it sounds clean enough, with clear dialogue and music. It's not a directional soundscape, but it's closer to the "reasonably adequate" level of quality I'd expect from a 90's catalog release. English subtitles are included.
Sadly, like Spring Break, another Sony-to-Anchor Bay DVD I reviewed, the only extra is the film's theatrical trailer. Additional trailers for He Was A Quiet Man and Flashbacks of a Fool play before the menu and are not accessible otherwise.
Where the Day Takes You is a little dated, and there are plenty of films like it that are both as good or better, but I can see how it might be special to certain viewers, and it's certainly not bad. After a long moratorium, anyone who's been waiting will no doubt be perfectly happy to have the film in their libraries despite sub-par video quality and zero extras. Newcomers, on the other hand, should rent this drama with reserved expectations before making it a permanent addition to their collection.
Please check out my other DVDTalk DVD, Blu-Ray and theatrical reviews and/or follow me on Twitter.