Tuesday, September 09, 2008

$5 a Day

Flynn (Alessandro Nivola) has got issues with his job as a health inspector, and his girlfriend (Amanda Peet), frustrated with Flynn's reticence to talk, has just moved out. So when Flynn's itinerant, absentee, con artist father Nat (Christopher Walken) sends Flynn a plane ticket to Atlantic City and tells Flynn that he's dying and needs a ride to an experimental clinic in New Mexico, Flynn has nothing to stop him, except his own unresolved issues with his dad. Flynn and Nat soon embark on a cross-country road trip to the clinic, but as they slowly work their way west, they begin to reconnect and long-hidden secrets and emotions are soon brought into the light of day.

While this may seem like your typical father-son bonding road movie, there's a great deal of humour and pathos here too. If you're not a fan of Christopher Walken's particular tics and style, you might be a bit reticent, but he gives a solid, funny, and moving performance, one where the tics fit his character to a T. Especially hilarious is his character's philosophy that he can live on only $5 a day by gaming the system, from the free gas and car he won for a year in a contest, to getting free meals from IHOP by pretending it's his birthday, and more in between. Nivola holds his own against Walken as Flynn, and defines his own man conflicted over his relationship to his father. Peet doesn't have much to do beyond wistfully looking at a ringing phone most of the time, but is still a welcome presence. And Sharon Stone has a small role as a force-of-nature that is one stop on the boys' road trip west, which in some ways reminded me of her similar role in Broken Flowers.

Director Nigel Cole did a Q&A after the film

  • The budget for the film was about $3 million, not including the pay for Walken, Nivola, and Stone. Saving Grace, his first film, cost $5 million.
  • Stone spent three days filming, and it wasn't difficult to get her after she found out Christopher Walken was involved.
  • Cole mentioned one scene with Nivola inspecting a taco stand and the owner (played by one of the production guys) shouting obscenities at him that was filmed as an opening, but it set the wrong tone for the opening of the film, so it got cut.
  • Cole wanted to use the Rolling Stones' You Can't Always Get What You Want, but it proved far too expensive ($1 million).
  • Marcus Foster, a young 19-year-old English singer/songwriter, did one of the songs in the film, and he doesn't even have a record contract, but someone in the audience commented on it.
  • Cole had a major crisis with his own father while working on the film, that brought up a lot of issues.
  • Christopher Walken memorizes the script (that's his process) and then he plays with it. So some is improvised, but for most, he's committed it, he's rehearsed it, he puts it on tape, he paces, and he memorizes. On a personal note, I heard the same thing from Seth Meyers, head writer of SNL, on the ESPN podcast The B.S. Report with Bill Simmons, when asked about working with Walken.

Q&A with minor spoilers:

  • That's not Steve McQueen's real jacket in the movie.
  • They were originally going to have Polident for the car, with a big set of teeth on the roof, but they pulled out as they didn't want to have their product made fun of.
  • During the 8 weeks of pre-production, they tried many others, before Sweet'N Low finally agreed. But they didn't benefit otherwise from product placement.
  • The only scene not written in the script was the scene with Nivola and Walken in the sales condo talking about the cat and the question mark.


My experiences at the Toronto International Film Festival. Note this blog is not affiliated with the Toronto International Film Festival Group or the festival itself.
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