Another Happy Day

Mistakes over-the-top dysfunctional family cruelty for comedy and drama.

With: Ellen Barkin, Ezra Miller, Kate Bosworth, Demi Moore, Thomas Haden Church, George Kennedy, Ellen Burstyn, Siobhan Fallon, Diana Scarwid, Michael Nardelli, Daniel Yelsky, Laura Coover.

Mistaking over-the-top dysfunctional family cruelty for comedy and drama, “Another Happy Day” tries and fails to channel “Rachel Getting Married” in its protracted tale of a wedding-party weekend that turns predictably from scabrous to redemptive. First-time writer-director Sam Levinson benefits immeasurably from a terrific cast — including Ellen Barkin, Ellen Burstyn, Kate Bosworth, and Demi Moore — whose members wrestle gamely with the formulaic script without bringing authenticity to scenes involving screams, slaps, tears and hugs. Levinson’s contrived pic won him a writing award at Sundance, but its lack of emotional realism seems likely to keep commercial prospects limited.

There’s nary a well-adjusted character here, but most neurotic of all is Lynn (Barkin, who also produced). Interpreting every conflict as a personal threat, she’s introduced bickering with her two youngest sons while they drive to her parents’ Annapolis estate, where eldest son Dylan (Michael Nardelli) will be marrying Heather (Laura Coover, oddly relegated to scenery). In one of countless cliches, the road-trip sniping is seen through the camcorder lens of young Ben (Daniel Yelsky), whose older brother Elliot (Ezra Miller), desperate for any drug he can get his hands on, is brilliant at pushing Mom’s buttons.

“It seems there has been an inordinate amount of drama since we got here,” Elliott says after arriving at his grandparents’ house. Indeed, ailing grandpa Joe (George Kennedy) sees his pacemaker sputter, grandma Doris (Burstyn) unwittingly admits that depression runs in the family, Elliott nearly ODs, and Lynn shakes with stress over seeing her abusive ex-husband Paul (Thomas Haden Church) and his goofy wife Patty (Moore), along with worrying over the impending arrival of her daughter Alice (Bosworth), who has been cutting herself. Eventually Elliot not only calls his mother the worst name in the book, but spits in her face.

Levinson’s comedy isn’t so much black as abrasive, and Barkin’s perpetually breathy perf strains credibility as well as the viewer’s nerves. Nearly all the film’s females break down sobbing at some point, which grows tiresome. On the plus side, the pic’s convincing scenes, though few and far between, linger uncomfortably in the pain of impossible reconciliation, as in tense exchanges between Bosworth’s Alice and her father, whose futility is believably conveyed by Church. Best in the large cast is Moore, who brings a much-needed playfulness to her garishly outfitted and shamelessly ditzy character.

Tech credits are average, with the exception of Stacey Battat’s vivid costumes, which almost manage to characterize Levinson’s caricatures.

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Another Happy Day

Production: A Mandalay Vision presentation. (International sales: CAA, Los Angeles.) Produced by Celine Rattray, Ellen Barkin, Pamela Lynn Fielder, Johnny Lin, Michael Nardelli, Salli Newman, Todd Traina. Executive producers, Cynthia Coury, Peter Crane, Caroline Kaplan, Elana Krausz, Sean McEwan. Directed, written by Sam Levinson.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Ivan Strasburg; editor, Ray Hubley; music, Olafur Arnalds; production designer, Michael Grasley; costume designer, Stacey Battat; sound, Felix Andrew; line producer, Peter Pastorelli; casting, Cindy Tolan. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 24, 2011. Running time: 115 MIN.

Cast: With: Ellen Barkin, Ezra Miller, Kate Bosworth, Demi Moore, Thomas Haden Church, George Kennedy, Ellen Burstyn, Siobhan Fallon, Diana Scarwid, Michael Nardelli, Daniel Yelsky, Laura Coover.

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