Welcome to the tenth week of Buried Credits, a column that deep dives into the IMDB pages of favorite actors, directors, and writers to find their lost, forgotten, or unknown film and TV credits. This week’s actor…
I’ll cut to the chase: for anyone out there who hasn’t come to terms with Keri Russell’s casting journey, from college student to Russian spy, please, PLEASE get your hands on the last four seasons of The Americans. I excuse you from finishing this article. Go watch The Americans. Free on Amazon Prime. Out on DVD. Best show currently on TV.
Now that the mandatory PSA segment’s over, lets consider the acting range it takes to embody, with buckets of integrity, the distant roles of Felicity Porter and Elizabeth Jennings. Because as much as the shock gets old (Keri Russell is a mad talent) this is Bryan Cranston going from Malcolm in the Middle to Breaking Bad. Katey Sagal going from Married With Children to Sons of Anarchy. And maybe, in terms of people wrapping their heads around a career, more. Felicity is one of those shows, like Gilmore Girls, that if you grew up with it became a nostalgia mammoth. Only with Freaks and Geeks have I seen a show so game to take the gloss off of what it means to be awkward, and I mean the level of awkward none of us wants to acknowledge, because it’s uncomplimentary.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ring, you have ‘cold as the Russian winter that brought down Napoleon’ Elizabeth, whose gradual thawing doesn’t change the fact that she can hurt you, physically and emotionally. Felicity was a role that was supposed to have typecast and overshadowed the rest of Keri Russell’s career. She had the nerve not to let it.
The Magic of Ordinary Days (2005)
Directed by Brent Shields
Teleplay by Camille Thomasson
Based on the novel by Ann Howard Creel
Olivia “Livy” Dunne (Russell). Ray Singleton (Skeet Ulrich). Already with their names you can feel the romance being sucked out of the room. Meeting for the first time on their wedding day, the strangers have agreed to an arranged marriage to keep Livy out of scandal. Falling in love with a solider on leave (the film is set during WWII), the soldier has returned to active duty and Livy is pregnant. Her father finds a volunteer husband in Ray, and effectively dusts himself off of his “problem” by shipping his daughter off to Ray’s farm by herself.
Arranged marriages conjure up many ideas but the drama of Ordinary Days doesn’t come from a clash of personalities. As far as arranged marriages go, Ray’s the best case scenario of guys to share uncomfortable silence with. On principle you want to balk and expect the worst but there are no catches with him. Is this the Hallmark movie talking? Maybe, a little, but the movie raises a question instead that’s terrifying in its own right. What do you do when your husband is nice? Had Livy been allowed to be disgusted by him it would’ve been easier, in some ways, because Ray is in it for the long haul. She doesn’t want to be.
The entire ‘hide the unwed pregnant girl’ concept is distressing, but in offering to help without any expectations (Livy has her own bedroom) Ray’s pretty incredible. He goes above and beyond the call of duty to try and make Livy feel at home. Thoughtful gestures include digging her a swimming pool upon learning she loves to swim. And he doesn’t announce his plans or look for praise. She simply finds him one day with a burrowed machine, trying to dig a hole.
So what is Livy supposed to do? Complain? Act upset or ungrateful, not that Ray’s asking for gratitude? Because no matter how lucky she came out in all of this, she was still forced into it. She had to leave graduate school, and her dreams of becoming an archaeologist. She was in love with another man and now, because Ray is kind, she has to feel guilty for still loving him and wishing events had gone a different way. Ray isn’t the stereotypical man of the country who denounces progress (he has a phone installed for Livy) but he’s happy to remain in the small town where he was born. That’s not a fault, but for Livy, who always wanted to travel and see the world, homemaking is repression. I wish the film had gotten into a few more personal conversations—the nonsense like what’s your favorite color, which at one point Livy is unable to answer about Ray—but a look from Russell or Ulrich speaks volumes and, perhaps, is more appropriate for their relationship.
Verdict: Buried Treasure
The Magic of Ordinary Days should be hokey. It’s not. The wardrobe by costume designer, Karyn Wagner (The Green Mile, Preacher) is beautiful— Keri Russell’s dresses a classic combination of comfort and color. When Livy becomes friends with Florence (Tania Gunadi) and Rose (Gwendoline Yeo), who work on the farm, the ugliness of Japanese internment camps get confronted. Like Livy they had been attending college when their lives were upended. The obvious difference is that they are being singled out, on a national scale, for their heritage. There’s no comparing, or defending, that.
Check back tomorrow, when Keri Russell contends against Joan Allen for the pursuit of her character’s dreams.