Review: Another Happy Day (Sundance)
PLOT: On the eve of her estranged sonís wedding, Lynn (Ellen Barkin) is forced to confront long-suppressed family drama while visiting her parentsí home in Annapolis. With her two of her other children (Ezra Miller & Daniel Yelsky) in tow, Lynn faces off with her ex-husband (Thomas Hayden Church) and his new wife (Demi Moore) - all the while preparing for the imminent arrival of her self-mutilating daughter, Alice (Kate Bosworth).
REVIEW: ANOTHER HAPPY DAY happened to be the last film I saw at this yearís edition of the Sundance Film Festival, and I really couldnít ask for a better film to go out on. Of course, family-focused dramadies are nothing new to Sundance. For every brilliant, incisive family drama (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE), we get a dozen or so mediocre ones (THE CHUMSCRUBBER, THE JONESES, THE GREATEST, SMART PEOPLE, etc.). I walked into this with a lot of trepidation, mostly due to how high-profile the cast was. Often, a film tries to over-compensate for a mediocre premise with a star-studded cast, and the idea of a dysfunctional family drama centered on a wedding didnít seem like a particularly original idea.
However, ANOTHER HAPPY DAY has a major ace up its sleeve in writer/director Sam Levinson. Formerly an actor, whose biggest credit was a role in the Uwe Boll film STOIC, Levinsonís debut as a director is tinged with a great deal of something everyone whoís ever had an uncomfortable family reunion has dealt with: pain. For many, ANOTHER HAPPY DAY will be a hard film to sit through, as it really nails the dynamic of a family thatís allowed itself to drift apart to the extent that no one really knows, or likes anyone else anymore.
At the same time, Levinson manages to accomplish something unique, in that he doesnít judge anyone. Thereís no ďbad guyĒ in the family, with everyoneís hate being rationalized to some extent. The closest we get to ďbad guysĒ are the couple played by Thomas Hayden Church and Demi Moore. In his marriage to Barkin, Churchís character was abusive, to the extent that itís caused his daughter to grow up into a self-mutilating shell of a person. But, heís not viewed unsympathetically, as he doesnít deny being abusive, and seems genuinely remorseful, especially for the effect itís had on his daughter.
As for Moore, true- she plays something of a bitch, BUT, the central conflict, about who gets to walk Barkinís son down the aisle raises a good point, in that Moore was the one who really raised him and loved him while he was growing up.
The star of the show here is definitely Ellen Barkin, who also produced. This is her first high-profile part in a while, and she gives a potentially Oscar-worthy performance as a totally unbalanced mother, who seems about half a second away from a major nervous breakdown throughout the film. Much of the drama centers on her relationship with one of her sons, Elliot- played by Ezra Miller in a star-making part. Heís a hateful, abusive junkie, who in a memorable scene spits in his momís face, before pushing her across a room. Interestingly, he immediately breaks into tears, and is overcome with self-loathing, so heís not dealt with unsympathetically either.
By the way Iím describing ANOTHER HAPPY DAY, it probably sounds like a pretty heavy film, but itís not a humorless one. In fact, but the first 70% of the film, I thought I was watching a black comedy, as it delves into some razor sharp family satire at times. In the end, Iíd say it weighs too heavily in the drama category to be called a comedy, but it certainly has its moments.
Amazingly, the distribution rights to ANOTHER HAPPY DAY havenít been snapped up yet, which is a surprise, as some of the acting, and the superb screenplay seem to be destined for some major award attention later this year. While it may not have a distributor, Iíd bet everyone will have the chance to see ANOTHER HAPPY DAY soon enough, as itís too good a film not to get a major release. Itís an incisive, revealing look at the sometimes tragic dynamic of a modern family. See it!