D: Frank Whaley / 104m
Cast: Leighton Meester, Julian Shatkin, Billie Joe Armstrong, Debra Messing, Olga Merediz, J. Smith-Cameron, James McCaffrey, Sammy Pignalosa
Eleanor (Meester) is a twenty-three year old waitress whose relationship with aspiring musician Dennis (Armstrong) comes to an end when he fails yet again to return home one night from a gig. Reggie (Shatkin) is a twelve year old child prodigy whose advanced intellect keeps him remote from everyone around him. When an argument with Dennis at her place of work leads to Eleanor losing her job, a friend of hers recommends signing up with an agency. When she does she’s told about a job as a nanny that requires a same day start. Interviewed and hired by Reggie’s mother, Barbara (Messing), the job involves making sure Reggie gets to and from school and that he eats while Barbara is away for the next two months.
Eleanor soon finds that Reggie has his own unique way of looking at the world, and her expectations are swept aside as Reggie refuses to go to camp as planned and she begins to get to know someone who believes that “art as a language is dead”. Reggie and Eleanor spend time in the park, watching movies, and eating out, and as time goes by, the two grow closer, while Dennis refuses to accept that his relationship with Eleanor is over. One night though, Eleanor receives a call from her uncle Dale (McCaffrey) telling her that her father is seriously ill in hospital. She tells Reggie that she has to leave for a couple of days, but rather than be left in the care of someone he doesn’t know, Reggie offers to go with her.
They travel to Eleanor’s home town where they receive a less than hospitable welcome from Eleanor’s mother (Smith-Cameron). They switch to a motel where Eleanor reveals that she too has a musical talent (Reggie is a gifted cellist and composer), and that she once got into Juilliard but they couldn’t give her a full scholarship. Reggie decides that he’ll include a part of the cornet (Eleanor’s instrument) in the composition he’s written called Like Sunday, Like Rain. At the hospital, Eleanor learns that no one has been in to see her father; when she goes back home it leads to a row that has her vowing never to return. With her job looking after Reggie coming to an end, and with her bridges burnt at home, Eleanor now has to plan for her immediate future, a future that means leaving Reggie behind…
The fourth feature from writer/director/actor Whaley, Like Sunday, Like Rain is a movie in which not a lot happens in terms of plot or even in dramatic terms, but which explores the dynamics of its central characters’ relationship with a great deal of charm and skill. As Eleanor and Reggie get to know each other – and we get to know them – the emotional differences between them become blurred, and various connections become apparent. It’s a delicate movie in many ways, with Whaley taking the time to explore Eleanor and Reggie’s personalities in deceptively fine detail, and in the process, allowing their eventual bond to become entirely believable.
As a result of ending her relationship with Dennis, Eleanor is both jobless and homeless, and at a crossroads in her life. Thanks to Meester’s intuitive, adept portrayal, Eleanor’s predicament is given a realistically poignant feel further enhanced by the combined expressions of resignation and frustration she evinces. It’s a subtler performance than it seems at first, and Meester shines throughout, building layer upon layer of resilience and determination and allowing Eleanor the opportunity to move forward with her life.
But this is Shatkin’s movie pure and simple, his performance another of those given by a child actor that is so perfectly gauged and delivered it puts most adult actors and actresses to shame (it’s a good job that Meester is a match for him). It’s a showy role – just watch Reggie’s response to his friend Raj’s crossword clue – but Shatkin is more than up to the task, and steals almost every scene he’s in, whether it’s questioning the maid, Esa (Merediz), as to the content of his meals, or quoting the sad fate of the artist Modigliani. Reggie’s over-confidence and child prodigy status hides a deep-rooted vulnerability, and Shatkin is excellent at showing the emotionally scared young boy hidden beneath the academic outer shell. His expression when Eleanor announces she has to leave to visit her father is a perfect display of need and understanding at war with each other.
Alas, where Whaley puts so much time and effort into making Eleanor and Reggie as credible as characters as he possibly can, the same can’t be said for Barbara and Dennis. Barbara is the stereotypical socialite so wrapped up in her own world she can’t be bothered to remember Eleanor’s name two minutes after she’s heard it. It’s a mannered, brittle performance by Messing, and amounts to barely ten minutes of screen time as she’s shuffled off to China to make way for Eleanor and Reggie to begin bonding. As Dennis, a musician with delusions of adequacy, Armstrong is a better singer than he is an actor, and Whaley doesn’t really do anything with the character other than to make him consistently whiny and annoying. Faced with such a limited characterisation, Armstrong doesn’t have the experience to make any more of the role, and consequently he’s the weakest link in the movie.
By concentrating on the subtle and meaningful ways in which two people, despite the gap in their ages and experiences of life, can develop a friendship that’s mutually beneficial and rewarding, Whaley makes Like Sunday, Like Rain a pleasure to watch despite its more dramatic turn when Eleanor goes home. This section of the movie feels a little rushed, as Eleanor’s differences with her family are brought to the fore in what are very broad strokes. But the ending restores the tone and the simplicity of what’s gone before, and the movie, already a pleasure to be a part of, concludes on a perfect note of synchronicity.
Rating: 8/10 – a slow-moving, leisurely paced movie that draws in the viewer and makes them care about its two central characters, Like Sunday, Like Rain is a small-scale movie that can be treasured time and time again; with terrific performances from Meester and Shatkin, and a nuanced script from Whaley, it’s a winning combination that rewards throughout.