Be prepared to rediscover Ellen Barkin with her Oscar-worthy, heart-shattering performance in Another Happy Day, an unflinching look at the utter epitome of dysfunction in the 21st Century.
Another Happy Day is not only an effective drama/comedy hybrid (dramedy, dram-com, comdram, what have you), but it has the unique distinction of having both an ensemble cast, and a true lead actor at its center. It's the best have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too scenario a first-time writer-director like Sam Levinson could have hoped for. The cast is populated with star power (Demi Moore, Kate Bosworth, Thomas Haden Church), reputable veterans (Ellen Burstyn, George Kennedy, Jeffrey DeMunn, Siobhan Fallon), and even some wonderful young up and coming actors (Ezra Miller, Daniel Yelsky) who come together to form one of the most dysfunctional families I've seen on film in a while. The story centers on one big f*cked-up family gathering for a wedding, and, like most families, there is a dark horse, the odd one out. Lynn (Ellen Barkin) is most definitely the dark horse here, who, despite her best intentions, is the butt of the whole family's jokes. Writer-director Sam Levinson guides us into this world with such ease that we really don't need much back-story on the family. We can tell, right away, that this family has been this way from day one.
There is absolutely no shortage of conflict in Another Happy Day, from Lynn's volatile relationship with her ex-husband (Thomas Haden Church), to her son Elliot's (Ezra Miller) abusive behavior, to the saddening lack of support Lynn fails to receive from, well, everyone. One of the only minor beefs I have with this movie, though, is the sometimes-confusing dynamic of this family, and what kid came from what father. Levinson does make a noteworthy attempt to clear all this up early on, but there's so much here that it can be confusing. It might have been more beneficial to eliminate Jeffrey DeMunn's character, Lynn's second husband and father of two of her four children, but he does bring some great things to the table.
Ellen Barkin is truly a revelation here as Lynn, a woman who has gone through quite a lot, with an abusive first husband and an erratic, sometimes-abusive son. Her anguish is portrayed so beautifully by Barkin, through every emotional breakdown and every obscenity-laced tirade, all of which feels bitingly genuine. I read an interview recently where Ellen Barkin said this was the role she has waited 30 years for, and the actress definitely doesn't squander the opportunity, with a performance that may be one of the best I've seen all year. I hope she has been shopping for new formal gowns, because I believe we'll be seeing a lot of Ellen Barkin on the awards circuit next year.
I truly loved every performance here, but, aside from Barkin, two other actors stand out in this movie, the first being Ezra Miller. This young man is about to have quite the year, after his turn in this and the much different/equally great indie We Need to Talk About Kevin. Miller is on point from the opening scene, providing a majority of the comic relief with a delivery and demeanor that would make Aaron Sorkin proud. He also switches gears so wonderfully, when we delve into the darker side of his addictive persona. The other performance I truly loved is a small but vital turn from Kate Bosworth, who plays Lynn's fragile daughter Alice. There is one scene in particular, between Bosworth and Thomas Haden Church, which is truly an eye-opener, with Bosworth straight up knocking it out of the park with range and vulnerability I haven't seen from her in years. That scene also puts Sam Levinson's talents on display as both a writer and director, finding beautiful ways to say so much with such little dialogue.
Another Happy Day is a true indie gem, a searing family drama that shows how sometimes you just need to hit rock bottom to move on with your life. Writer-director Sam Levinson shines just as much as his incredibly diverse cast, with a remarkable debut that puts him on my list of filmmakers to keep an eye on. I hope your own family isn't as f&$#ed up as this one, but I have to imagine that practically everyone can relate to the dysfunction in Another Happy Day.