Monday, February 20, 2012

Another Happy Day

From the son of veteran writer/director Barry Levinson comes the independent debut film "Another Happy Day" written/directed by Sam Levinson that is a dark comedy about a complicated family dynamic. Expectations are unfavorably high due to the family connections, which is partially why the cast is so superb and draw some attention. The film performed well at Sundance earlier this year receiving a screenwriting award, but didn't last in the theaters very long and a little effort will be needed to find it on DVD.

A family weekend intended for happiness is upset by the emotional past and unfortunate consequences that have developed and left unchecked by the emotionally absent family that chooses to ignore the darkness in each other. The story focuses on Lynn (Ellen Barkin) as she arrives at her parents' Annapolis estate for the marriage of her eldest son Dylan (Michael Nardelli). Lynn's hopes for a joyful reunion are crushed as her troubled middle son Elliot (Ezra Miller) shows his abusive side both physically and verbally before escaping to a dependency on drugs and alcohol. The weekend quickly unravels as Lynn demands to be heard by her distant mother (Ellen Burstyn), ailing father (George Kennedy) and judgmental sisters (Siobhan Fallon, Diana Scarwid), but most especially by her ex-husband Paul (Thomas Hayden Church) and his hot-tempered second wife Patty (Demi Moore). Lynn's intentions through most of the film are to protect her daughter Alice (Kate Bosworth), who fights to keep her own personal demons under control.

Sam Levinson wrote a superb script that digs into the minds of each of the characters through clever writing, but the performance from Ellen Barkin (Lynn really distanced me during the film. The family feels that Lynn always has to have everything be about her, and even though that is clearly not true, the performance from Ellen Barkin says otherwise. But she isn't the only one that is over-acting in the film, notably Demi Moore as the wife to the ex-husband, along with Siobhan Fallon and Diana Scarwid as the gossiping sisters are all guilty of over-acting. Perhaps this was the intention of Sam Levinson, but in my opinion a more refined and subtle approach could have been taken and yet still been as powerfully emotional. The softer approach taken by Ellen Burstyn (Doris) and surprisingly the younger actors Ezra Miller (Elliot) and Kate Bosworth (Alice) served perfectly to contrast the polar extremes of the film.

As Ezra says in the film, it is interesting that in a weekend for a family wedding that is meant for such happiness, that the family is so angry all the time and pushes each other away. Makes you wonder what a weekend built on sorrow would mean, and if it would have the opposite effect of bringing everyone closer. The film ends, where I almost wanted it to start.

While many might not enjoy the darkness in the film, it is never the less worth watching as the story carries a lot of emotion with it. There are so many layers to the film that each story could have been dealt with on its own. By combining them all the subject becomes watered down to focus on the emotionally unstable Lynn, when the focus would have been on Alice and Elliot. For a debut, Sam Levinson should be extremely proud of the film and I look forward to his next film. For now, "Another Happy Day" is only a 3 Quack film, but who knows what Sam Levinson has in his bright future.

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