‘A Perfect Day’
Fernando Leon de Aranoa
Stars: Benicio del Toro, Tim Robbins
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

The aid workers in the dark comedy-drama “A Perfect Day” are fearless and noble and selfless, but they’re also grouchy and tired and, at times, cynical. They’re far from saints, even as they’re doing the unthinkably brave. Anyone who’s known — or, perhaps more likely, watched a documentary on — any kind of aid worker knows they tend not to be the type glamorized by the likes of Ron Howard. They’re stressed-out, weary and sometimes chain-smokers, hollowed by the stresses of trying to do good, even as the intensity is partly what drew them to the job in the first place.

RELATED: Interview: Tim Robbins on what "The Shawshank Redemption" taught him about prison

The story it tells isn't even the kind that gets AMPAS voters riled up. In a tiny, remote village, a very fat corpse has been deposited in a local well, in an attempt to contaminate the drinking water. The plot (unfolding over — surprise! — a less than perfect day) revolves not around unimaginable bravery, but around something more comically quotidian. Our heroes — including Benicio del Toro’s weary Mambru and Tim Robbins’ giddy “B” — are simply trying to find a good piece of rope. This proves absurdly but maybe understandably difficult in the middle of nowhere, in a region that was back then just emerging from the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The refusal to sugarcoat or overpraise its fearless do-gooders is itself noble and useful, and at its best “A Perfect Day” relishes in portraying characters we rarely see on film in a darkly comic fashion. Director Fernando Leon de Aranoa once made the Spanish unemployment film “Holidays in the Sun” with Javier Bardem — a terrific hangout film slightly marred by its share of stock elements. 

RELATED: Interview: Benicio del Toro wants some nice guy roles for a change

So it goes with “A Perfect Day,” which is sometimes too easy. Melanie Thierry’s Sophie is the fresh fish, whose idealism — charging up to meddling bureaucrats, calling out them out on their heartless refusal to help the village’s minor problem thanks to copious red tape — is intended as a figure of fun who, of course, hardens as the film/day wears on. At least her arc provides more meat than some go-nowhere business with Mambru and an old flame, Katya (an unusually relaxed and funny Olga Kurylenko), who hops along for the ride and only creates mild tension. There’s also a Balkan boy (Eldar Residovic), there chiefly to remind our hollowed-out heroes of the purity of their life cause. 

De Aronoa is only slightly invested in these bits, and soon just grooves on the combination of mordant funniness and the comfortable cast. It’s instructive to see del Toro playing someone who is basically a nice guy, but with enough flaws that he never comes close to inhuman. It’s shagginess is mostly a good thing, and it subtracts from the occasional didacticism, which crops up now and then without causing the film to topple over. Despite the smallness of its story, it plays like a decent pilot for a show that could only get better as its characters become more vivid and, surely, even bitchier.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge