Tone-deaf obviousness and blunt-force capitalist critiques plague Morris’ latest, letting down its good intentions with disappointing bluntness.
When Andrea Arnold shifted her sights from England to the United States with American Honey, she struck perfection. Her distance allowed her to find the cinematic in what’s very real, and while she approached the subject with a clear point of view, it never felt intrusive. When Charlie Brooker took jabs at the news and world events in his Screenwipe and Newswipe series in the late-aughts, he toyed with his perspective. He worked with American hegemony only to make them universal and then gave his own point of view.
Whether it’s Arnold, Brooker, or Armando Iannucci or even the likes of Douglas Coupland, they each had something to say. But the most salient part isn’t just the difference between subject and artist: it’s the dissonance. Christopher Morris’s The Day Shall Come, however, is unaware of this. And don’t get too hung up on the fact that Morris and his co-writer have worked with Iannucci before: his latest tries to skate the line between farce and satire until losing his insight.
Some of it feels like an unintentional autocritique. Just look at Moses (Marchánt Davis), the protagonist who lives in a Miami farm/commune with his wife, Venus (Danielle Brooks), and daughter, Rosa (Calah Lane). He makes references to the Europeans who have enslaved and marginalized generations of black people and, despite his economic hardships, attempts to live in a capitalist society. Some of it is amusing, some clever. Then it becomes clear that the system he decries is the one on which the movie operates, even if it tries not to.
That system, as it so happens, is made literal. The Day Shall Come’s core first appears to be Moses’ attempts to fund his farm and, in effect, get reparations for black Americans. Morris, who wrote the script with Jesse Armstrong, tries to land a split-narrative instead. It goes from chuckling with (but mostly at) Moses only to cut to an FBI office where a director (Denis O’Hare) tasks Agent Kendra Glack (Anna Kendrick) to get some sort of dirt on the family. The office wants to peg Moses as an Israeli terrorist, simply because racism keeps them rich.
The motivations aren’t the issue. In fact, they play as accurate, and better so when the dialogue finds its sweet spot of being dense but not overcrowded. It’s the irregularity in which Morris & Armstrong and switch between these characters. Each party has people on their peripheries, and each supporting character drags in more political issues. That would be fine if the movie could differentiate them. But it can’t. Black, Muslim, Jewish, extremist, moderate—they all become the Other, the amorphous blob the racist government agents see them as.
It’s unfortunate, too, that character informs such a mishmash of perspectives. Each person starts as an archetype but grows closer to a stereotype, their actions tailored to serve the plot or some quick sense of conflict. Oddly enough, the most glaring ones aren’t restricted to race or strata. It’s a case of people acting in ways that don’t match who they are as people.
Black, Muslim, Jewish, extremist, moderate—they all become the Other, the amorphous blob the racist government agents see them as.
For instance, the movie makes it clear in the first act that Moses is mentally ill. He believes his horse to be a vessel for God; the way he misinterprets the world around him as a product of his wishes borders on delusions of grandeur. Why, then, is Venus with him? The script shoehorns in conflicts between the two only to rob them of any consequence. The other side of the same coin affects Kendra who, while starting as the moral compass in her scenes, veers towards subservience more and more until she loses the agency she started with.
There are so many pieces that come close to fitting but just can’t click, and it becomes increasingly clear that people who don’t share their characters’ struggles wrote this. This isn’t a case of a non-American filling in their distance from the subject with their own personality. It’s a case of distance guiding the film, with little to be gleaned about the intersection of race, economics, and religion. At just 87 minutes, they’re all a means to an end.
The Day Shall Come comes to limited release in Chicago on September 27.