SXSW FILM 2011
By Don Simpson | May 22, 2011
Director: Sam Levinson
Writer: Sam Levinson
Starring: Ellen Barkin, Demi Moore, Kate Bosworth, Ellen Burstyn, Thomas Haden Church, Ezra Miller
Jeez, I really do not know where to begin with this crazed, convoluted narrative about a crazed, convoluted family…
Let’s see… Lynn (Ellen Barkin) is the stressed out, neurotic mother of Elliot (Ezra Miller) — one of those perpetually mopey teens who wears black on the outside because black is how he feels on the inside — and his younger brother, Ben (Daniel Yelsky), who totes around a video camera and documents everything for no apparent reason. Lynn’s estranged eldest son, Dylan (Michael Nardelli), is getting married to Heather (Laura Coover).
Before I proceed, there is some necessary backstory to discuss: 20 years ago, when Lynn and her then husband Paul (Thomas Haden Church) divorced, Paul took Dylan and Lynn kept their daughter, Alice (Kate Bosworth). That one decision seems to have permanently effected everyone — even those who were not born at the time — in the family like some sort of gypsy curse. Dylan was raised by Paul and his current wife, Patty (Demi Moore), and he seems to have grown up to be the most normal of Lynn’s kids; while Alice grew up to become a self-mutilator. Elliot has not faired any better than Alice, he has been in and out of drug and alcohol rehab four times and counting. With at least two troubled, psychologically scarred kids under Lynn’s watch, her entire family — especially her mother (Ellen Burstyn) — suspects that Lynn is to blame.
The aforementioned wedding is taking place at Lynn’s parents’ Annapolis estate and the stress of being around her accusatory family compound’s Lynn’s neuroses tenfold. Paul and Patty’s presence only further crazes Lynn’s mental state, as does the constant reminder that her mother has continued to turn a blind eye to Lynn’s history of being physically and mentally abused by Paul. Lynn’s cartoonishly gossiping siblings and their respective significant others only add to her quickly deteriorating psychosis. The only family member who does not nag Lynn is her father (George Kennedy), and that is only because he spends the majority of his screen time in a dementia-riddled la la land.
Lynn’s family is rife with issues; they protect themselves with shields of sarcasm and passive-aggressiveness. I do not recall one pleasant conversation during Another Happy Day; in fact, the dialogue seems to frequently dissolve into hysterical screaming or fits of tears or both. I suspect that writer-director Sam Levinson (the son of Barry Levinson) intends for Another Happy Day to be a “women’s drama” and therefore he sheds any resemblance of realism in favor of soapishly outlandish drama. Ladies, if you are looking for a wedding drama, Noah Baumbach’s Margot at the Wedding, Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married, Thomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration, and Robert Altman’s A Wedding and Dr T and the Women are all far superior to Another Happy Day. Despite the acting powerhouses of Burstyn and Barkin, the melodrama is far to exaggerated to take any part of Another Happy Day seriously.
There is, however, one fleeting moment of genius in Another Happy Day in a scene where Lynn calls Elliot a “son of a bitch” and “mother fucker”, to which Elliot promptly points out just how wrong those words sound spewing from his own mother’s mouth. Maybe it was that one brief scene that earned Another Happy Day the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance 2011?