Michael Winterbottom doesn’t have a signature style, nor even a favorite topic. His films can range from a close observation of a lesbian relationship in “Butterfly Kiss” to a slice off the Bosnian War in “Welcome to Sarajevo” to the sublime sci-fi antics of “Code 46.” If there’s a commonality to these, it could be a certain detachment: Though Winterbottom is a master at drawing his characters’ passions and emotions, the overall texture of his movies is as smooth and refined as caramel.
“Everyday” is the latest to reach our shores, and in this, Winterbottom turns the tables on his own formula. The master in the art of dramatics (and often histrionics) marvels at the mundane and ordinary, much like a beachcomber who goes for the most ubiquitous seashells instead of the artistic driftwood. Here, Winterbottom revels in such prosaic moments as a child’s hand turning off a light switch, and he frames it so that it becomes a single painting of astonishing beauty.
The film charts five years in the life of a family in which the dad, Ian (John Simm), has been imprisoned for drug smuggling. The mom, Karen (Shirley Henderson), shepherds her four children onto trains and buses to visit him, traveling from one outward destination to another (it seems Ian is being moved about constantly). It’s a grueling undertaking for a brief encounter, but Karen feels it’s worth it. When the children get to see their father, they treat the occasion as an especially wonderful outing: They clamor for his attention, exchange long, tight hugs and tell him all about what they’ve been doing at school.
“Everyday” was shot over the course of five years and the children in the movie are real-life siblings, performing under their own names of Shaun, Robert, Katrina and Stephanie (their family name is Kirk). Winterbottom works with a loose timeline structure: Now mom Karen is working at a pub, while earlier she was pulling a shift at a DIY store. To assuage her intense loneliness (not to mention her deep and dire fatigue), she sleeps with coworker Eddie (Darren Tighe), though it brings only temporary relief. Through all this, the kids live out their own lives on their own time, and home life is filled with poignancy and the kind of warmth that only a house full of children can radiate.
What struck me most is how the film portrays the inherent indomitable strength of children, and their ability to adjust to circumstances. The four kids here find some measure of joy in everything they do, every single day. They have the additional advantage of being absolutely sure of their parents’ love and protection (in spite of Ian’s absence) and that one day, dad’s sentence will be over and he’ll come home.
Still, the years of Ian’s imprisonment take their toll on Karen and the kids, though Winterbottom never lingers on a single aspect. When the camera is trained on Karen’s face as she looks out from a train window, it feels as though a woman has never been so strained, or drained. You can only pray that her life will pick up once Ian returns.
Winterbottom leaves a conviction more than a message: how quickly children grow up, and how hard it is for struggling parents to savor or enjoy that precious time.