First-time filmmaker Sam Levinson gathers an attractive cast including Ellen Barkin (onscreen after a hiatus), Kate Bosworth, Demi Moore and Ellen Burstyn, for his family wedding melodrama Another Happy Day, that debuted in the U.S. Dramatic Competition section of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. Levinson may be the son of veteran director Barry Levinson, as well as a fledgling filmmaker in his own right, but he's also fearless when it comes to flamboyant characters, shrieking performances and booze-fueled confrontations, as these unfold throughout his film, unrestrained. Levinson, who won the festival jury's Waldo Salt Screenwriting Prize for Another Happy Day, understands melodrama as a mode of excess, replete with heightened emotions and larger-than-life characters. Void of subtlety and the gritty realism that's trademark for many Sundance dramas, Another Happy Day, from Mandalay Vision, may fail to win over many critics due to its histrionic storytelling. Still, its standout female ensemble and its audience friendly plot will offer solid marketing potential to any specialty distributor confident of their ability to target female moviegoers.
The wedding of her oldest son Dylan (Michael Nardelli) to the pretty Heather (Laura Coover) should be a time for joy, but Lynn (Barkin) feels like she's battling the world. Her mother Doris (Ellen Burstyn) is judgmental, her ex-husband Paul (Thomas Haden Church) is distant and his second wife Patty (Demi Moore) likes to play boss. As the wedding draws closer and Lynn grows more frantic, it's unclear whether her son's wedding will turn out to be a joyful celebration or a family disaster of epic proportions.
Barkin looks great and makes a noble effort trying to keep her middle-aged mom character grounded, but Levinson unloads too many hysterical outbursts and crying fits to keep Lynn from dissolving into parody. Demi Moore settles nicely into her role as Patty, a demanding second wife with chiseled arms and a face that defies age. Moore lucks out by avoiding many of the melodramtic land mines scattered throughout the movie. Kate Bosworth comes off as uncomfortable and out-of-sync as Lynn's daughter Alice, a troubled young woman who cuts herself. Like Barkin, Ellen Burstyn also stomps through the movie in a state of constant agitation, and by the climatic wedding scene one wishes someone in the movie would just exhale.
Another Happy Day is a women's drama, but it's the men who mostly avoid the film's emotional landmines. George Kennedy functions as set dressing as the absent-minded Grandpa Joe. Ezra Miller brings bite to the drama as Lynn's drug-addicted, middle son Elliot. Thomas Haden Church makes the most of his scenes as Lynn's frustrated ex-husband. Michael Nardelli turns out to be the film's voice of reason as the soon-to-be-married Dylan.
Wedding dramas are a cinematic staple, often with an emphasis on laughs. Levinson deserves credit for taking a chance with outrageous melodrama, although his movie suffers in comparison to recent films like Rachel Getting Married.
To the credit of Levinson and his crew, including production designer Michael Grasley, Another Happy Day claims plenty of technical polish. Cinematographer Ivan Strasburg helps make its Michigan locations look great and editor Ray Hubley maintains a swift storytelling pace.
As far as the hysterical storytelling, Levinson has only himself to blame. While the film will fail to earn a spot at any critics' top ten lists, Another Happy Day remains a solid directing debut. More importantly, there are plenty of reasons to predict a long filmmaking career ahead for Levinson. That is, if he can learn some restraint when it comes melodrama.
Contact: CAA 424-288-2000
Cast: Ellen Barkin, Demi Moore, Kate Bosworth, Ellen Burstyn, Thomas Haden Church, Ezra Miller
Director/Screenwriter: Sam Levinson
Producers: Ellen Barkin, Pamela Lynn Fielder, Johnny Lin, Salli Newman, Michael Nardelli, Celine Rattray, Todd Traina
Running Time: 115 min
Release date: Unset