Another Happy Day

19 Dec

Title: Another Happy Day
Year: 2011
Director: Sam Levinson
Writer: Sam Levinson
Starring: Ellen Barkin, Kate Bosworth, Ellen Burstyn, Thomas Haden Church, George Kennedy, Ezra Miller, Demi Moore
MPAA Rating: R, teen drug/alcohol abuse, pervasive language including sexual references, and brief graphic nudity
Runtime: 115 min
IMDb Rating: 4.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 43%
Metacritic: 45


Last night I saw Tyrannosaur, a really great film (I gave it an A-) but that was at times too unpleasant to endure, but the performances in it made it well worth it to do so. Another Happy Day is kind of similar, the film itself is certainly a few notches below Tyrannosaur, but it’s the same case in that the characters we are presented with here are at times too unlikable to endure for a couple of hours, but if I managed to do so and actually liked the film it’s all because of the performances, especially the one given by Ellen Barkin. This film revolves around a family reunion as Ms. Barkin’s character, Lynn, travels with her younger children to her parents estate in Annapolis where her estranged eldest son is getting married. So we get a lot of your typical situations that arise at a dysfunctional family gathering, except that there’s really not one character you can particularly get behind here. But, like I said, at least every actor brings their A-game to the festivities.

Or maybe there is a character you can get behind, and it’s just that I didn’t, all I know is that the characters prevented me from loving this film as much as I easily could have otherwise considering we had such a performance from Ellen Barkin, an actress that I really like and that has the most entertaining Twitter account in the world. The whole film feels overly melodramatic in order to attract our attention to the anguish of the characters here, but too much so, there are too many players here. And the fact that this film is just so loud and busy with them means that each character is just all over their own issues and far too busy to listen to those of anyone else.

The thing is that Another Happy Day is purely an actor’s kind of film, the characters, if badly constructed, are here to provide a lot of really neat material for actors to play with, and thankfully the cast of this one is really good, and the performances that they deliver are more than enough to anchor the film through whatever missteps it may take. This is the debut film from writer-director Sam Levinson, and yes, if the name sounds familiar it’s because he is indeed the son of Barry Levinson, the Oscar-winning director of Rain Man, but I think it’s great that Another Happy Day, imperfect as it may be, doesn’t have the younger Mr. Levinson relying on his dad. I mean, Ms. Barkin obviously had her big break on the senior Mr. Levinson’s Diner back in 1982, and his name obviously helped land some actors, but it’s not as though he’s listed as a producer or anything in this film, and Sam Levinson’s sensibilities are decidedly darker than his dad’s, his vision a provocative one that’s all his own to claim and develop.

And we must talk some more about Ellen Barkin. As the twice-married mother-of-four she kind of reminds us that once upon a time she used to be an incredible actress and it’s a pity she hasn’t been up to much lately; memorable roles of hers other than this one in the past few years I can only think of the one she gave in Oceans’ Thirteen, which wasn’t so much a memorable role as it was just a reminder that she could still do her thing and be seriously awesome. There’s something great about watching a late-career resurgence like this, seeing an actress like Ms. Barkin deliver such an intense performance, both hilarious and compassionate at the same time. At the hands of a lesser actress Lynn would be the character that gets our sympathy, but she makes giving it to her challenging by making her such a complex character. She’s the reason why you should check out Another Happy Day, a film that, if the rest of the parts were half as good as her, would have her squarely in the discussion for that Best Actress Oscar that will, hopefully, go to Meryl Streep two months from now (no, I haven’t seen The Iron Lady yet, it’s just that she’s Meryl Streep, she should get the Oscar every year).

Lynn’s estranged son that’s getting married is Dylan, she lost custody of him in the divorce years ago which means he was raised by his dad, played by Thomas Haden Church, with his new wife, played by Demi Moore, and she got their troubled daughter that cuts herself, who’s played by Kate Bosworth. Another vital part of this story, and the best performance other than Ms. Barkin’s, is Elliot, her teenager son who’s just out of his latest stint in rehab and has some very cutting commentaries to throw around at free will at his family. Elliot’s played by Ezra Miller, an actor with a lot of screen presence and a huge amount of talent and who’s of course in Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin in what’s supposedly his huge breakout role. I’m dying to check that film out, because Mr. Miller’s performance here is awesome, if Ms. Barkin’s portrayal of the many issues that Lynn has make the film great, it’s Mr. Miller’s portrayal of the many things Elliot does that keeps it interesting.

Sam Levinson makes a debut that, while not all that great, shows he is a filmmaker that certainly has a great deal of promise, and even though he overstuffs this one with some situations and characters we could have done without, he still shows a keen eye on how he handles such an extensive cast and writes a very biting and clever screenplay that make his a very authentic voice to show in a debut film, and I’m certainly very curious to see what he’ll be up to next. Yes, in Another Happy Day less would have been more, but you can never fault a young director with being ambitious, especially not when he’s directing such an incredible performance from an actress like Ellen Barkin who really deserved a late-career bright spot like this one.

Grade: B


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