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Amidst all the hopelessness and despair, the murkiness and affliction, the chemical imbalances and drug use, the repression and psychoses, a definitively distinguished cast, with an especially remarkable Ellen Barkin at the helm, shapes a family we can all recognize. Another Happy Day uses a run-of-the-mill platform of a wedding to air out the enduring issues of a diseased family. It sounds dreadful, and while the characters of the film find salvation out of reach, the film is salvaged by great acting that never produces fraudulence.
Lynn (Ellen Barkin) and her sons, Elliot and Ben, are headed to Lynn’s parents’ house in Annapolis, Maryland, where her ailing father and haughty mother are hosting a family reunion. The occasion is the wedding of Lynn’s oldest son from a previous marriage, the child she did not get the chance to raise. Each of the three children she did raise have severe emotional issues. Alice (Kate Bosworth) is a self-mutilator, who has trouble coming to terms with the past, which includes the context of the abuse her mother suffered from her father, Lynn’s first husband, Paul (Thomas Hayden Church). Elliot (Ezra Miller) is a sardonic teenager who uses his quick wit and his grandfather’s potent opiates to cope with his twisted family. And Ben is a smart, talkative young boy struggling with weight issues and being labeled autistic, even though he actually has mild Asperger’s.
Their extended family, which includes Lynn’s sisters and their kids, are ignorant and moronic, and Lynn cannot win with any of them. In fact, they are all on great terms with her ex Paul and his callous wife, Patty (Demi Moore). Logically, Lynn understands the depths of her family dynamic, but emotionally she is constantly looking for validation and support.
The role of Lynn is an extremely challenging one to pull off, and many will find Lynn pathetic, but Barkin is exemplary at bringing out the sincerity and fragility of a woman who tries to do everything right, but has no one in her corner. It is reflective of real-life family politics and of society’s current general preference of the uncompromising, even ruthless woman over the sensitive woman. Everyone, including Lynn’s parents, find her needs pitiful and unbecoming, even if they are all the cause of her nature.
Ellen Burstyn and George Kennedy are expert, veteran performers, and Demi Moore is dead-on as the manipulative, confrontational Patty. Ezra Miller provides the film with essential pockets of witty humor, but the entire film would have benefited if Kate Bosworth’s depiction of Alice was less feeble.
Another Happy Day is a solid directorial debut from Sam Levinson, son of the great Barry Levinson, who directed Barkin in her breakthrough role in Diner in 1982. Levinson won the Screenwriting Award at Sundance for his work here, but he had to have been thrilled with the execution by his cast, because it takes a top-notch ensemble to make a family drama like this worth watching.
Sanela Djokovic is a writer living in the Bronx.
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