With the holidays firmly behind us, we can all focus on the new year with our respective obligatory resolutions to do a variety of things to improve our lives (e.g. eat right, drink water, exercise more, lose weight, help someone, attend church, etc.), most of which will be either discarded or forgotten by the end of this month, if not sooner. But one endeavor we cannot escape will be the ever increasing drumbeat to promote a select group of movies that are up for an Oscar this year. You know some of the contenders - The Artist, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Descendents, Hugo, The Help, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, Margin Call, Shame, Tree of Life, Bridesmaids, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and War Horse, just to name a few. However, there is one movie that is strangely absent from any best movie list for reasons that totally escape me - Another Happy Day, which I would like to plug. It certainly beats dwelling on the crazy scenes in Iowa and New Hampshire of the past few weeks.
To begin with, it has an outstanding cast which includes Ellen Barkin (one of its producers), Ellen Burstyn, Demi Moore, Thomas Haden Church, Kate Bosworth, George Kennedy and Ezra Miller. Yes, it centers around a totally dysfunctional family that makes one of my all-time favorite movies Parenthood, the prototype for the most popular series on TV by the same name, seem like Bambi, but it is beautifully written by Sam Levinson, as recognized by the Sundance Film Festival, and superbly acted. In reality it could have been more accurately titled Another Unhappy Day, but that would probably have driven even more viewers away than have seen it to date. In all honesty, my wife and I saw it only out of default because there was no other movie playing at the time which we were interested in seeing, and we were two of only three people in the theater at the time it showed.
While some critics have tried to frame it as a failed comparison to Rachel Getting Married just because a family gathering for a wedding is the setting, I never even gave that link a thought while watching this movie. From the opening scene to the final fade away, I was captivated by this family's history and dynamic. It all begins with Lynn's (Barkin) road trip to her parents Joe (Kennedy) and Doris' (Burstyn) home with two of her sons, Elliott (Miller) and Ben (played by Daniel Yelsky) to attend the wedding of her oldest son, Dylan (played by Michael Nardelli). Along the way young Ben can't help but record the event with a camcorder while his older brother Elliot, just out of drug rehab, continues to prod his mother with cutting and hurtful remarks. As expected, that ribbing culminates in an emotional reaction that exposes the torment Lynn feels about her life which stays with her pretty much throughout the movie. Naturally, her ex-husband Paul (Church) and his new wife Patty (Moore) will be there to add to her angst, but unknown is whether Lynn and Paul's daughter Alice (Bosworth) will even show up, as she has her own issues from the past with her abusive father. Add to the mix Lynn's absent-minded and ailing father and a mother who has also reached her breaking point in dealing with all of this family trauma, and you know this is not going to be a Father Knows Best experience for her. When Alice does finally appear, tension begins to rise, and you really begin to feel Lynn's pain. It is an adult movie with raw, powerful and poignant emotion true to probably more real life situations than most of us care to admit, which alone sets it way above most of the movies coming out of Hollywood today. For that reason, coupled with a wonderful screenplay, great cinematography and superb acting, it gets my nod for one of the best movies of 2011. But for the lousy distribution, Another Happy Day would have been more widely available in mainstream theaters, thus allowing a greater audience the opportunity to see it, in which case this movie might have earned the higher degree of respect from the critics it deserves. Thumbs way up for me!