Another Happy Day

Another Happy Day (2011)
★ / ★★★★

Lynn (Ellen Barkin) and her two sons, Elliot (Ezra Miller) and Ben (Daniel Yelsky), come to stay at their family’s estate for Dylan’s wedding (Michael Nardelli), the son that Lynn and Paul (Thomas Haden Church) had before separating. Meanwhile, Lynn’s mother (Ellen Burstyn) and sisters (Siobhan Fallon, Diana Scarwid) worry about Joe (George Kennedy), the eldest member of the clan, because his pacemaker has malfunctioned. There is also some stress about Alice (Kate Bosworth), Lynn and Paul’s daughter currently in therapy for cutting herself, possibly not making it to the wedding.

“Another Happy Day,” written and directed by Sam Levison, is extremely frustrating to watch unfold because every drop of emotion comes off fake. There is a lot of yelling around the house about physical, emotional, and psychological abuse and is almost always paired with either someone walking into the frame and doing something completely idiotic or someone saying something completely insensitive in the scene that comes right after. This approach softens the majority of the material’s dramatic weight and so the picture never has a chance to make us feel involved.

We never get the sense that these people are a real family; they are dogs that have gone unfed for weeks and all they wish to do is take a bite out of each other. Now, I have been around other family gatherings whose members tend to argue a lot. They just cannot help themselves. Yet it is obvious that there is still love there. While they yell and release all sorts of unpleasantries, they are not afraid to joke around one another even if negative emotions have not yet diffused. It may be out of embarrassment, I don’t know, but at least it is real. Here, it seems like all loyalties are thrown out the window. It feels too movie-like.

For example, I did not understand why Doris, Lynn’s mother, treats her daughter like she is a nobody. Though it is true that everyone is in charge of his or her happiness (and unhappiness), the picture offers no reason why Doris is so cold. The writer-director’s decision to not offer an answer–or a hint–to one of the most curious questions is, in a way, an act of cheating us out of a possible rewarding emotional arc.

The singular person that may be worth our time is Alice. Although she is still in danger of relapsing into cutting herself when things get tough, I felt a strength from her when she speaks to drug-addicted Elliot, whose fourth time in rehab is for naught. It made me wonder if Elliot and Ben, the latter very attached to his video camera, an obvious symbol of a character’s detachment from reality, would have been happier young people if their sister were around more because she has such a positive energy.

Another strand that should have been explored further is Lynn’s relationship with Patty (Demi Moore), Paul’s wife. The two do nothing but get on each other’s nerves. Is it really that difficult for them to find a commonality in one another, even if it is superficial, especially if their son is about to have one of the most important days of his life?

“Another Happy Day” is far from a happy experience, not even in a darkly comic manner. It is a such a vortex of unpleasant commotion that I wondered what I would have done if they were my family. If I had to be around these people, I would probably pretend to die in a car accident while on my way to see them.

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