The family drama with an all-star cast of name actors playing bit parts has become a staple of modern American independent cinema, and reaches its lowest point with the profoundly ill-advised directorial debut of Sam Levinson, son of Hollywood director Barry Levinson. Roping in an impressive cast led by Ellen Barkin (also producing) to tell of a family reunion where just about anything that can go wrong does, Another Happy Day introduces its central characters en route to the family's Annapolis manor, under the guise of a home video master-minded by ADD asocial brat Elliott (the estimable but typecast Ezra Miller). Driving the family car is mother Lynn (Ms. Barkin), already on the defensive about heading home to the marriage of her eldest son Dylan (Michael Nardelli) whom she did not raise after divorcing her abusive husband Paul (Thomas Haden Church).

     It all goes downhill from here, since Mr. Levinson is aiming at a particularly difficult tone somewhere between dark satire and bleak hopefulness, but never even comes close. Lynn may be an anxious, hysterical woman prone to fits of victimization, but the callous condescension she gets from most everyone else in the household, from imperious matriarch Doris (Ellen Burstyn) to Patti (Demi Moore), the vulgar, disdainful new wife of Paul, perfectly justifies it - to the point that the writer/director is unable to give us one single reason why we would want to spend such a largely overextended two hours with these people.

     Another Happy Day does feature some good moments - the quieter ones, usually intimate conversations between two characters where the actors find opportunities to ground and flesh these people and Mr. Levinson manages to strike the right hushed tone - but they're few and far between, with the film almost immediately returning to the generally ill-judged tone-deafness where nothing is sacred nor taboo, cramming its dislikeable theatre of family cruelty with all sorts of shrill over-reactions and misunderstandings until Another Happy Day becomes both embarrassing (because of the waste of such good actors in characters even they can't bring any empathy too) and unbearable (because the cruelty these people inflict upon one another becomes so entrenched as to be unexplainable). One to avoid.

Cast: Ellen Barkin, Kate Bosworth, Ellen Burstyn, Thomas Haden Church, Jeffrey de Munn, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, George Kennedy, Ezra Miller, Demi Moore, Michael Nordelli, Diana Scarwid, Daniel Yelsky

Director and writer: Sam Levinson
Cinematography: Ivan Strasburg  (colour, Panavision widescreen)
Music: Òlafur Arnalds
Designer: Michael Grasley
Costumes: Stacey Battat
Editor: Ray Hubley
Producers: Celine Rattray, Todd Traina, Johnny Lin, Mr. Nardelli, Salli Newman, Pamela Fielder, Ms. Barkin (Mandalay Vision and Voltage Pictures in association with Taggart Productions, Princess Pictures, Cineric, Filmula Entertainment, New Mexico Media Partners, Red Rover Films and Prop Blast Films)
USA, 2012, 118 minutes

Screened: distributor advance screener DVD, Lisbon, November 24th 2012


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