Sundance – Another Happy Day

If I asked you to name some films that take place in New England, where the wedding weekend brings together a painfully dysfunctional famly to butt heads and cry for several days, it wouldn’t be too hard to list a few. Among these are probably Noah Baumbach’s Margot at the Wedding and Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married. Sam Levinson’s Another Happy Day seems to be a marriage, if you will, between these two earlier films. Sure, you’ll substitute pedophilia for domestic abuse, and self-mutilation for drug addiction, but all the basic parts are there. Because of the similarities, I originally passed on Another Happy Day in favor of catching Araki’s Kaboom. But once Another won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance, it seemed I ought to give it a chance.

The plot is very complex.  There are so many characters doing so many dramatic things, it’s very difficult to explain.  According to the Sundance program, this is what Another Happy Day is about:

A wedding at her parents’ Annapolis estate hurls high-strung Lynn into the fire of primal, Byzantine family dynamics. It’s the wedding of Lynn’s son, whom she was deprived of raising because of her acrimonious divorce, and a feud still rages between Lynn and her ex-husband’s hot-tempered wife. Meanwhile, the three children Lynn did raise display a panoply of disturbing behaviors like cutting and drug addiction, which Lynn’s mother and sisters alternately ridicule and blame her for. As Lynn attempts catharsis, her mother sweeps issues under the rug, but painful truths bubble and spurt. Clan members deploy ricocheting arrows to protect themselves—and wound others—as the fine lines between victims and perpetrators blur.

Yes, this is a family full of hurtful idiots. And as per Sundance instructions, every mental illness in the book is explored and exploited. Most notable because of its recent appearance in fashionable media, Aspergers and/or autism. But as you would expect from a winner of the Waldo Salt Award, there is some fantastic writing here. Even when the script is so over the top. But the film’s one hundred and fourteen minute run times goes by in a blur. It went by so quickly that once the credits started rolling, I genuinely wanted to see it again immediately. This shouldn’t be a problem, even though it’s one of the few star-studded and prominent titles of the festival that hasn’t been pickup for distribution yet.

Besides the writing, the film generates it’s energy from the balls-to-the-walls performances turned in by its leading ladies. Ellen Burstyn plays the frighteningly repressed and angry matriarch of the New England family, and she makes no qualms about shutting down any opinions contrary to her own with a passive-aggressive vengeance that makes me shudder. Demi Moore nails it as Lynn’s ex-husband’s second wife, a shallow and hostile woman happy to fly off the handle at any excuse, especially if she’s able to direct her antics towards Lynn. And of course there’s Ellen Barkin, who plays Lynn. What was required of her was astounding. At times, she has the saddest, most tired eyes of any one I’ve ever seen. But at other times, she morphs into the alpha-female (many times required as her husband seems about as clueless as one gets), and has no trouble putting situations in their place. Kate Bosworth rounds out the crowd as the alienated daughter of Lynn and her ex-husband (played by Thomas Haiden Church). While her performance is short, it’s exact, and moving. Better than most anything we’ve seen from her.

Sam Levinson’s direction is strong, and assured. It’s his first time directing, and there are some real glimpses of talent every now and then. As he’s also credited with writing Another‘s screenplay, it seems he may be one of the very few people who can both write and direct with a real amount of skill. At the very least, his first film leaves us greatly interested in what he will give us next.

Despite the overly familiar setting, Another Happy Day explores complicated family relationships. Some very painful, some very cathartic. There’s more of the former, which will undoubtedly turn off many audiences. But with those willing to go through a bit of pain, they will be greatly rewarded.


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7 Responses to “Sundance – Another Happy Day”
  1. Jessica says:

    Just once, I wish that a movie would be named “Another Happy Day” and actually be about another happy day. Happy. Also, I’m beginning to be bugged by the ubiquitous nature of Asperger’s. I just read the most recent young adult National Book Award winner, and it had cancer, a school shooting, and Asperger’s. Enough with the issues people.

    Okay, sorry about the rant. Even with the above complaints, this sounds kind of good.
    Jessica´s last blog post ..Cool Stuff You Should Know About

  2. Anita says:

    Hey Jessica….it’s all good… After having been exposed to children with Apsberger’s syndrome, you realize that sometimes, after exasperation(when it hasnt been diagnosed especially), it’s “all good” …another happy day. It’s the daily affirmation you tell yourself when having to live with and deal with the needs of a child with a disability. It’s an approach you can take to waking up with the complexities of the syndrome and the patience it requires to deal with the individual suffering from it and yet, not making them feel as though there’s anything wrong with them. It’s a balancing act of wit and temperance. The title is very fitting. Great film. Can’t wait to see what he puts out next. I felt like I could identify with Lynn’s character a lot throughout the film.

  3. Stephanie says:

    This sounds like a movie I’d enjoy, even though it sounds like the viewer is drowning in “Issues” and family dysfunction.

  4. Blake says:

    @ Jessica – Heh heh. You make me laugh. And I understand completely.

    @ Anita – In the real world, I can’t even imagine dealing with a special needs child like that. It must be incredibly difficult for everyone involved. Thanks for your comment.

    @ Stephanie – It IS drowning in issues. That’s a good way to put it. But as somewhat of a masochist, I love it! Bring on more issues!

  5. Russ Guglielmino says:

    Brilliantly acted. Very difficult and complex characters. This film, at times, is difficult to watch but worth the effort.

  6. Jakester says:

    Maryland is not New England

  7. Blake says:

    @ Jakester – Wow, I’m kind of surprised I didn’t know that. Thanks for the heads up, friend.

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