The Days of Toast and Mayonnaise, by Rita Cannon
Matt Jay’s 34-minute short Any Day Now tells you a lot about itself just from its title and the fact that it shares that title with a Lifetime TV series, a Dutch sci-fi movie, a Burt Bacharach song, and at least four different rock albums. It gets something across – we know someone’s waiting on something – but it’s a little bland and forgettable and you might get it mixed up with something else. Similarly, the film’s portrait of a young woman taking her first steps into adulthood is familiar, not challenging but basically pretty effective.
Twenty-three-year-old Sam (Samantha Strelitz) has just moved to New York City with hopes of breaking into modeling. Her parents live upstate and it seems like the only person she knows in the city is George (Ron Nummi), a married politician with whom she’s been having an affair for some time. In between dalliances with George, Sam goes to modeling auditions, gets awkwardly hit on by her neighbor Jimmy (Ryan O’Callaghan), eats mayonnaise sandwiches by herself with her headphones on and wanders around public places looking lonely and a little dazed. It’s only when she goes back home to visit her mother and brother (Victoria Bundonis and Devan Mulvaney) that we see her look truly engaged and comfortable in her own skin. Going home seems to remind her of who she actually is, and might prompt her to make some changes upon her return to New York.
Any Day Now works better when approached as a mood piece rather than a character study or a piece of drama. Speaking as a 24-year-old who moved to Los Angeles six months ago, I think it captures Sam’s sense of disorientation in a remarkably honest way. I may have sounded flip when I talked about the mayonnaise sandwiches and public wandering but these behaviors actually rang very true to me. I lived at home with my parents and brother before I moved, so being alone in an apartment for much of the day was jarring for me and I spent a lot of my first few weeks eating things out of cans and standing in empty rooms, looking around and wondering what I was doing there. That sense of befuddled paralysis comes across beautifully in Strelitz’s performance and in Patrick Scola’s cinematography and Matt Tibbs’ sound design. Most of the shots of Sam, in and out of her apartment, are wide and fairly static and essentially show her watching other people do things. There’s also a lot of silence in the film. All of the outdoor sequences are completely silent, while the silence of her apartment is punctuated by sharp, exaggerated sounds – the musical ping of her cell phone or the rough scraping of a knife on burnt toast. It’s as if Sam is so sensitive to everything that the only time she doesn’t have to willfully numb herself is when she’s at home alone.
The supporting characters – particularly the ones Sam deals with in New York – aren’t as well realized. George is clearly a jerk, and the scenes he shares with Sam don’t give much of an explanation as to why they’re even together. The scene in which he creepily highlights their age difference by making her slow dance to soul music with him to while talking about how timeless it is (“Can’t say the same thing about that nonsense that’s popular today!”) made me cringe. And yes, he does get all upset when she calls him at home because he told her never to do that. Less annoying but only slightly more interesting, is Jimmy, the age-appropriate foil to George. Baby-faced, sensitive and obviously smitten with Sam, Jimmy is the kind of guy who wears a JanSport backpack to his interview at The New Yorker (why doesn’t anyone in the movies ever work for a small or obscure magazine?) and says things like, “I’m an illustrator. Have you seen Sherbert Socks?” I give the film credit for never explaining what on earth Sherbert Socks is (to say nothing of whether it’s actually called Sherbet Socks and Jimmy is just saying it wrong). It also wisely avoids the scene of Jimmy and Sam agreeing to go on a date that probably would have been the ending of a lesser film. But Jimmy’s very existence still seems a little perfunctory. Sam shouldn’t need the promise of a new love interest to want to change how her life is going (or even just to break up with George), especially since she doesn’t even seem that into Jimmy.
This unevenness is the biggest problem with the film. It sometimes feels like Jay wanted to make a short film about loneliness but then struggled to come up with what else it should be about. But as slight as the story is, Any Day Now proves that Matt Jay knows how to set a mood and it’s one that should resonate with anyone who’s ever felt uneasy in a new place.