Ordinary World starts out with a flashback to a 1995 performance by L.E.S. Skunks, the fictional rock band once fronted by Perry Miller (Billie Joe Armstrong). So right from the very first frame, viewers are clued in to the fact that Armstrong — the longtime lead singer of Green Day — is riffing on his own persona and career. In fact, as the film contrasts its opening with Perry’s more laid-back current life, it’s almost like a glimpse into an alternate reality in which Armstrong’s own band had faded into obscurity soon after the 1994 release of breakthrough album Dookie instead of continuing to generate hits for another couple decades.
Despite the opening’s focus on Perry’s musical heyday, the bulk of the film follows Perry still adjusting to suburban life in New York City with his wife (Selma Blair) and two kids (the elder of whom is played by Madisyn Shipman of Nickelodeon’s Game Shakers). Music has all but faded from his life in the past 20 years, and Perry is working at the hardware store he and his brother (Chris Messina) run.
Feeling dejected by his family, he decides one day that he’s had enough of the everyday grind and launches an impromptu idea to host a party at the Drake Hotel. As viewers might be able to imagine, this plan does not go as well as Perry had hoped. A modern-day twist on House Party this is not. Sorry, Kid ‘n Play fans or those hoping that Perry’s party – which could have worked as an alternative title, come to think of it – would evolve into a rundown of all the antics in The Hangover trilogy.
Rather, Ordinary World takes its straightforward premise into what feels sort of like a mid-life crisis version of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – if Ferris’s plans had gone horribly awry, that is. From his mischievous former bandmates – led by a particularly excitable Fred Armisen – to Judy Greer’s role as Perry’s very own “one that got away,” the film is really an exploration of Perry’s efforts to reconcile the image of how he once saw himself with the man he has become so many years later.
Ordinary World is essentially a coming-of-age story for 40-somethings who thought their life would go down one path but who ended up somewhere unrecognizable instead. In keeping with today’s nostalgia-obsessed culture, this sentiment appears to be making the rounds on the indie film circuit, as the Duplass brothers just recently tackled similar themes in Blue Jay.
As for Armstrong, he might not be a revelation, but he does succeed in keeping his man-child character from devolving into an obnoxious and irritating mess. That’s a trick that Adam Sandler still hasn’t quite figured out after more than 20 years headlining big-screen hit comedies. Set up mostly as the straight man, Armstrong brings enough of an amiable nature to Perry to keep audiences on his side throughout Ordinary World, even when his supposedly “grown-up” decisions are head-slappingly ill-conceived. Moreover, writer/director Lee Kirk – whose only previous directorial credit is 2012 romantic comedy/drama The Giant Mechanical Man – presents the character as good-intentioned but oblivious, underscoring Perry’s own jumbled state.
The music, as Green Day fans might expect, is exceptional, though Armstrong contributes only a pair of original songs to the film. “Devil’s Kind” captures the band’s punk roots in effectively rambunctious fashion, but it is “Ordinary World” itself that is the real standout. The film’s title track is featured on Green Day’s recent album Revolution Radio, and it’s a stripped-down affair featuring little more than Armstrong’s top-notch vocals and an acoustic guitar. Colored by a sense of melancholy that befits Perry’s own journey, the song even carries a particularly emotional scene that highlights just how lost this character truly is and how desperately he wants to bottle up the good ol’ days.
Although Ordinary World hits a number of familiar story beats, a real heart appears to be beating behind the material, allowing Armstrong and his castmates to maximize the emotional impact it has. Thankfully, the film didn’t opt for its original title of Geezer. Though the decision to retitle it may have had more to do with the strength of the song of same name, Ordinary World is a far better reflection of the story Kirk is trying to tell, and thanks to the combined efforts of all involved, the film remains pretty engaging throughout its brisk 86-minute runtime and carries a lot more meaning than some viewers may expect by the end.
Ordinary World - the first starring role for Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong - may feature a conventional story, but it counters that with tons of heart and solid performances throughout.