Despite a weak third act, One of These Days mostly succeeds as an engaging drama that delves into the harsh world of American capitalism.
Reality television in its current state often has the same type of people front and center. The working class, uneducated person who is there either to make a quick buck or out of desperation. Audiences can watch hours upon hours of this content, which aims its sights to those it perceives below them. When you’re not the one in the spotlight, you have a safety net that lets you enjoy the entertainment in front of you. One of These Days may not set its sights on the world of television, but rather, it shows a world where years consuming such content has turned the desperation of the poor and down in their luck into an entertaining show for many to watch.
Joe Cole plays Kyle. A man who lives day to day down in his luck with a wife and a new born child to support. With no jobs or support around him, Kyle is beginning to become desperate. When the opportunity to take part in a ‘Hands On’ endurance contest comes his way with the prize of a brand new pick-up truck, Kyle enters himself into the contest. Alongside Kyle’s story, we also follow Carrie Preston, who plays the character of Joan. Joan is the PR organizer for the contest and, as she juggles her job and her own life, we see the converging of two storylines of two people on different sides of the same coin.
From the outset, One of These Days takes aim at American culture through the lens of a small town in the south. The direction of the film takes an almost documentary-like approach as it allows each of the characters to navigate through the world they live in. The main centerpiece of the movie revolves around the ‘Hands On’ contest, with each of the 20 contestants placing their hands on the truck and having to endure multiple days worth of time holding onto the vehicle for dear life. The film is at its strongest during these sequences as each character slowly brings their motivations for being in this contest forward and the intensity amps up. The grueling nature of the competition as the film continues is articulately depicted by director Bastian Günther as the hours go up and the mental state of the contestants begins to deteriorate. Although this contest is seen as a piece of harmless entertainment for those spectating, for the contestants themselves, it becomes a traumatizing and draining ordeal. Despite the intensity of the contest, however, their determination still shines through. In one scene, each of the contestants begin to sing the national anthem. It comes at an intense point in the contest yet even in their weakest moments, a certain sense of patriotism begins to shine through. However, this isn’t necessarily an uplifting scene, rather, it’s when the film makes its bluntest point. American capitalism may make daily life a struggle, yet these contestants persevere, for better or worse.
In one scene around the middle of the film, Joan tells a man during a date that the contest, despite the intense heat and weather conditions, is entirely safe and voluntary. Yet, even when the contest goes through intense rain and even threats to safety, the contestants still have their hands on the truck with no intent to move. The character of Joan wears multiple faces throughout the film: the PR face, which she wears around cameras and throughout the contest, and the face she wears during her day to day routine. She presents herself as a friendly and outgoing character, which the film shatters the illusion of as it continues. She has a daughter who has moved away and a mother losing her memory. These mounting problems are beautifully depicted by Carrie Preston, who truly shines even during the film’s weaker moments.
One of These Days may have a foreign perspective from the outset, with a German writer and director as well as a British lead, but it’s also a perspective that understands the landscape of America now. The capitalistic systems that lead to the perpetuate poverty and determined desperation of a town that feels more ghostly by the day. The film doesn’t directly feel like it’s judgemental of the characters it chooses to depict. Regardless of one’s perspective of this contest and the perhaps gullible nature of those who choose to participate, Günther’s aim on a narrative and thematic level seeks to go a little larger than that.
As strong as the film’s first two acts are, it does suffer from a bloated runtime caused by a third act that feels unnecessary to the rest of the story. What is shown is engaging but largely goes over what we have seen prior: an attempt to also make the story more surreal while an interesting risk on paper falls short and threatens to tear apart the strengths of what came prior.
One of These Days is at its strongest when it takes itself down to the most human level. Its outsider perspective propels a strong narrative and exposes an under-discussed section of America where those who are down in their luck unknowingly become entertainment for the masses. It’s a beautifully acted and emotional drama that despite some major problems in the back half, has plenty of strong direction and writing that makes it a film worth experiencing.
One of These Days was released in select UK cinemas on April 1, 2022.