Blu-ray Review: $5 a Day (2008)

Now Available to Own

AKA: Five Dollars a Day

Forget The Boy who Cried Wolf. Instead, Flynn (Alessandro Nivola) must deal once again with the dad who cried wolf in the opening act of Calendar Girls and Saving Grace director Nigel Cole's winning dramady.

Having lost both his job and his longterm girlfriend (Amanda Peet) in a matter of hours, Flynn struggles to respond to the latest plea from his estranged father who'd phoned his leaving lover earlier in the day to inform Flynn that he's dying.

And needless to say because his dad's a morally flexible con man who lives to lie and repeatedly smooth talks his way into and out of a wide variety of ridiculous situations that routinely work to his benefit, it's no wonder that Flynn has some serious trust issues.

This is especially hard for Flynn who, having gone to jail in the place of his father Nat (Christopher Walken) by taking the blame for a con gone wrong years earlier has actually moved to the other side of the U.S. to escape his schemes.

Yet of course, blood is thicker than bother so Flynn travels out to Atlantic City where once again his dad breaks down his guard within minutes, managing to talk Flynn into being his “wheel man,” by driving them cross country for an experimental treatment Nat is hoping to obtain in New Mexico.

Up to all of his usual tricks, Nat prides himself for his ingenious but not altogether legal knack of getting by on no more than five dollars a day from driving a Sweet & Low promotional vehicle to get free Chevron gas and IHOP meals for a year to crashing work conventions in banquet halls and staying in empty homes that are currently for sale.

Purposely mapping out the journey so that they'll find themselves retracing key steps they took in their relationship gone wrong in an attempt to try to build a solid father/son bond once again, while the road trip begins as an obligational chore for Flynn soon it evolves into an adventure back in the past where he can finally learn the truth about his dysfunctional family.

On the surface, Nigel Cole's $5 a Day may resemble a dime a dozen independent road films as well as quirky family portrait movies we've all seen before where characters are too heightened to be real that have filled the multiplex following the success of breakout indies like Little Miss Sunshine and Sideways.

Yet thanks to the unpredictable twists of the screenplay penned by Tippi and Neal H. Dobrofsky along with a refreshingly whimsical turn by Walken that's balanced by Nivola's likable straight man routine, $5 also works in unexpected bursts of laughter, warmth and no shortage of surprisingly touching moments to balance out the obvious eccentricities.

Landing across the desk of everyone from Sam Rockwell to John Curran to Nick Cassavetes for five years since the delightful script first appeared in Tinseltown in 2003, eventually the right cast and crew came together five years later to give it the right low-budget yet highly entertaining approach it deserved.

And while I honestly don't know why the endearing Nivola still remains one of cinema's best kept secrets, predictably Walken is the one you can't help but keep your eye on from start to finish as he gets another cinematic opportunity to deliver bittersweet monologues, move from one emotional extreme to the next and even dance.

Famous for his ensemble work in Saving Grace especially, Nigel Cole holds our interest even further generating solid supporting turns by Sharon Stone who seems to be playing a companion of her character in Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers, along with Dean Cain, Peter Coyote and Cole's A Lot Like Love leading lady Amanda Peet.

Recently released on disc in a solidly transferred Blu-ray edition, much like the charismatic conman Nat in Nigel Cole's sweet, succinct sleeper, $5 a Day is sure to steal your heart.

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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.