Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 27, 2019)
Hot off the success of 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, director Blake Edwards went after another character-based drama. With 1962’s Days of Wine and Roses, Edwards takes on alcoholism and its impact on relationships.
Joe Clay (Jack Lemmon) works as a PR man, and he excels at his job, as he always finds ways to make clients happy. This means he schmoozes a lot, and that leads him to imbibe massive amounts of alcohol.
All that boozing doesn’t bother Joe, however. Instead, he enjoys the large quantities of alcohol he downs and sees no issue with his lifestyle.
At a party, Joe meets teetotaler Kirsten Arnesen (Lee Remick), his client’s secretary. Though she initially dislikes Joe, she ultimately agrees to go out with him.
This leads to a relationship, and along the way, Joe pressures Kirsten to join him in his alcoholic ways. She eventually relents, and the booze-soaked couple suffers a mix of concerns related to their drinking.
Given the subject matter and Edwards’ tendency toward schmaltz, I went into Days with guarded expectations at best. I maintain a feeling of affection toward Edwards because I enjoyed his comedies as a kid, but I admit I’ve been less than enchanted with what I’ve seen as an adult.
Still, hope springs eternal, and I thought perhaps Days would give me something more substantial. And it does – for a while, at least.
Unquestionably, Days fares best in its first act. Edwards manages to paint Joe’s drinking problem in a subtle manner and shows its escalation/damage in a slow, gradual way.
This feels believable and it avoids the melodrama I feared. We get to know Joe and Kirsten in a realistic scenario and buy into them as people without heavy-handed moralizing.
Once both get into the bottle so much that they become genuine drunks, unfortunately, Days goes wholly off the rails. The film doesn’t paint Joe and Kirsten as your everyday alcoholics – no, it forces them to mutate into crazed, danger-to-society addicts.
This seems like the proverbial bridge too far. As soon as Kirsten burns down the apartment in a drunken stupor, Days leaves all semblance of reality in the crapper.
Of course, I know that people under the influence do make poor choices and cause real damage. I don’t argue that behaviors like those seen in the film fail to exist.
However, Days pushes Joe and Kirsten to such extremes that it seems fairly ridiculous. At one point, Joe winds up screaming in agony while bound in a straightjacket, for heaven’s sake!
Days keeps its heart in the right place, and I understand that my 2019 eyes see the tale differently than 1962 eyes would. Something like this would’ve seemed more revelatory at that point, as not that many films took on socially relevant subjects like alcoholism.
Nonetheless, Days still seems too overwrought and hysterical to work. I like its first act and its ambiguous ending, but a lot of it simply grates on the viewer.