One Of These Days (2023) Movie Review:  Even if the claim of “Inspired by true events” in the credits of indie-drama One of These Days does not convince the viewers of its authenticity, they would not have a hard time recognizing its central premise. Set in a small town in Texas, director Bastian Günther’s film revolves around a group of folks competing for a pickup truck by placing their hands upon it—the last person to remain standing with their hands on the vehicle gets to claim it.

For those accustomed to YouTuber Mr. Beast’s brand, such a premise evokes dozens of videos where Mr. Beast utilizes a similar setup to grant his winners enormous cash prizes. These videos, a perfect epitome of philanthrocapitalism, employ a feel-good vibe, enabling the viewers to vicariously enjoy the success of an underdog winning a colossal prize. While the central setup in Günther’s film is a minuscule version of the YouTuber’s contests, One of These Days resists the victorious and uplifting appeal of such competitions. Instead, it settles for a bleak overview of marginalized lives in rural America.

Set in Texas, the film involves an annual ritual in town that involves winning a shiny pickup truck. All you have to do is register, and if you are the one selected in a lucky draw, you will compete in an endurance test in which you will not be required to take your hand off the vehicle. The last person to maintain this tactile relation with the truck gets to take it home.

The event is organized by Joan Riley (Carrie Preston), a local townswoman who is genial with everyone around the area. She seeks to enthusiastically involve her community in this event, whether as a participant or spectator. Running parallel to Joan’s narrative, we follow Kyle (Joe Cole), a fast-food worker who has been chosen as one of the lucky ones to participate in the chance to win the truck. The prospect of winning the truck would certainly alleviate the economic conditions of Kyle and his wife, Maria (Callie Hernandez), who are juggling between multiple jobs to help raise their newborn son.

Competing against Kyle (our narrative reference) are a bunch of folks—some familiar to Kyle (such as the blue-collar worker Peggy) and others complete strangers (like Kevin, a brash man bent on teasing Kyle). The rules of winning are straightforward—the participant must have at least one hand on the truck at all times, except for a five-minute break every hour.

What seemed like a playful game to win a truck slowly turns into a nasty and overwhelming event for all involved leading to hostile confrontations, physical collapse, backstabbings, racist behavior, and mental breakdown—exposing the dark side of chasing the American dream in a capitalist society. Meanwhile, Joan is dealing with her own midlife crisis as a single woman in her town.

Director Bastian Günther got the idea for the film from the famous 1997 documentary Hands on a Hardbody (1997) about a similar endurance contest that took place in Longview, Texas. Feeling that the documentary was not critical enough of this exploitative tradition, Günther sought to write a screenplay that underscores the dehumanization such a competition ultimately entails.

Despite being filmed from an outsider’s perspective (Günther is German), the film’s ultimate triumph remains in its potent depiction of small-town lives through the lens of its working-class folks. Barring Kyle and Joan, we barely get to know any of the other participants in the game, yet Günther ensures to give each of them enough context to locate their drive to win or their pathos when they eventually end up losing. Although overtly obvious, the film also elaborates upon these proceedings as spectacle and how they drive each participant towards their more brutish side.

The film assembles a talented cast, ranging from established thespians to newcomers. Joe Cole convincingly embodies the rugged-yet-kind-hearted charm of his character, whose downward spiral is made all the more heartbreaking thanks to Cole’s sincere portrayal. Even though the overt focus on Preston’s character of Joan feels incongruous with the film’s depiction of cutthroat competition, she brings forth such a tragic charisma to her portrayal that one wishes for a spinoff film solely centered on her.

Dealing with a daughter who left for college, an ailing mother, and her own frustrated sexual life, Joan is drawn as a heroine from a Tennessee Williams plays, trying to make sense of her life as a single lady in her Southern town.

As the film begins, Günther and cinematographer Michael Kotschi utilize long takes and pans to create a slice-of-life portrayal as we follow Joan going about her daily job, interacting with the townsfolk, and spreading her enthusiasm about the event. This glittery picture of the all-good and friendly small-town America, which Günther evokes early on, slowly crumbles as the narrative proceeds. This reliance on grounded realism also helps to create a coherent and convincing depiction of its characters so that when the film slowly takes a twisted turn in its latter half, the shift does not feel unearned.

Where the film eventually falters is in its unfocused screenplay that not only extends its runtime to 120 minutes but also pulls off the interest from its most riveting aspects. Günther weaves Joan’s life and her romantic liaisons in the narrative, which, while excellently performed and neatly executed, do stray away from the most compelling part of the film. It is as if Günther wrote two distinct screenplays and amalgamated them into the film—a blend that does not interweave very well.

However, in the film’s final fifteen minutes, Günther harks back on a moving flashback that ties neatly with the thematic underpinnings of the plot more than the half-baked focus on Joan’s backstory. Coupled with a haunting third act, this conclusion situates a powerful reflection of blue-collar lives and their chase for the beguiling charms of the American Dream.

Also, Read: Queens on the Run (2023): Movie Ending, Explained – What did the road trip mean for each of the “Queens”?

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Where to watch One of These Days

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