LITTLE ROCK Another Happy Day arrives as an under-the-radar surprise, a seemingly conventional study of a dysfunctional family drawn together at one of those inevitable occasions - in this case, a wedding - underpinned by a ferocious, seemingly desperate performance by Ellen Barkin (!?!) acting like a bat out of a Cassavetes psychodrama.
Barkin also produced this film, which is the first directed by Sam Levinson, son of Barry (Diner, Rain Man, etc.), and it’s not difficult to understand why. She gets her juiciest part ever - the sorrow besieged Lynn, whose estranged son Dylan (Michael Nardelli) from her first, allegedly abusive, marriage is the bridegroom.
When Lynn and Paul (Thomas Haden Church) divorced years before, he took custody of their oldest son, while Lynn took daughter Alice (Kate Bosworth). She then married the apparently strung-out Lee (Jeffrey DeMunn), and bore him two sons, the highly intelligent, annoyingly snotty and just-out-of-rehab teen Elliot (Ezra Miller), and the younger Ben (Daniel Yelsky), who has an eating disorder and compulsively films his family’s invariably fraught interactions.
Lynn hasn’t seen Paul since the divorce, and she’s anxious enough about seeing him that she arranges for her therapist to be present. And Paul brings his current wife, the brittle Patty (Demi Moore), to the party.
The wedding is being held at Lynn’s parents’ Annapolis estate, which puts Lynn and her crew in proximity to her dying, self pitying father (George Kennedy) and hyper-critical mother (Ellen Burstyn), as well as her catty, judg-mental sisters (Siobhan Fallon, Diana Scarwid).
While the whole business feels a bit overstuffed with characters and a little derivative (it’s like a slightly more mainstream take on Margot at the Wedding or Rachel Getting Married), the performances of Barkin and Miller - who’s getting great buzz for his work in We Need to Talk About Kevin - make it worth seeing, even in this season of Oscar-seeking dramas.
And young Levinson, who also wrote the film, does nothing to disgrace the family name.
Another Happy Day
87 Cast: Ellen Barkin, Ezra Miller, Thomas Haden Church, Kate Bosworth, Ellen Burstyn, Demi Moore, Michael Nardelli, George Kennedy Director: Sam Levinson Rating: R, for drugs, language and nudity Running time: 119 minutes
MovieStyle, Pages 36 on 12/16/2011
Print Headline: Another Happy Day