Friday, November 18, 2011

Sam Levinson's ANOTHER HAPPY DAY: another excellent ensemble wedding flick

Remember 2007's Margot at the Wedding? How about 2008's Rachel Getting Married? But 2010's Helena From the Wedding? Nah: That one's "ensemble," all right, but the wedding was way in the past. This year's addition to the perennially popular weddings-bring-families-together genre (like Altman's A Wedding. Now that was a good one!) is titled ANOTHER HAPPY DAY, and it won the Waldo Salt screenwriting award at this year's Sundance Film Fest. And yes, it's another good one. In fact, it's one of the best.

Directed (his first time) and written (his second) by Sam Levinson (shown at left, and son of Barry), the movie is, moment-to-moment, just about perfect in terms of its dialog. While the direction is usually on-target (or at least close enough for jazz), the dialog just bubbles and bursts and begins all over again in some new direction or with some other charac-ter. It's Levinson's near-constant change in tone (aided and abetted by his terrific ensemble cast) -- sometime quicksilver, sometimes gradual -- from glee and humor to shame and sadness that nails this journey into the dynamics of a fractured family during the days prior to, during, and after the "getting hitched."

You won't know who everyone is or how they are connected for some time, so I suggest you simply sit back and let the movie wash over you. Keep alert to that dialog, however (it's so good, you won't be able to help tuning in), and slowly things will (or not) become clear. Even if you note some loose ends by the finale, I think you won't mind. There will have been more than enough laughs, shocks, surprises and tears to keep you well occupied.

This is an ensemble, with a large initial group that just gets larger -- sometimes you feel like you've stumbled into something that might keep growing, Blob-like, into infinity -- but within the frame are maybe a dozen or more main characters and perhaps six or eight that we really get to know. These are led by ex-and-current wife (and mother) Lynn, played by Ellen Barkin (above) in the kind of role -- timid and needy -- that we are not used to seeing a strong actress like Ms Barkin essay. She's really good.

Just as good -- in fact, in his own way, he holds the film together, as much as does Barkin -- is Ezra Miller (above) as her oldest son. Drug-addled does not begin to describe this guy's state of mind, and Miller nails every weird crack and crevice. He also, better than anyone in the cast, handles those quicksilver changes, bringing us with him every time. Possessing a delicate androgynous beauty that he alternately uses and works against, and a keen intelligence that seems always at the ready, this actor is aces in every role he tackles (Afterschool, City Island, Every Day) and I expect he'll do it again in the upcoming We Need to Talk About Kevin.

Ellen Burstyn (above) proves a smiling monster as Lynn's mom. What an actress she can be! This is as strong a role as she's had in some years, and Ms Burstyn has been given enough screen time to run with it, showing us both the monster and the scared little girl who still resides within.

As Lynn's ex and his new wife, Thomas Hayden Church and Demi Moore (above) do great stuff with their somewhat circumscribed characters, and Kate Bosworth (below) is once again quite good -- and in a role unlike any she's had previously. She seem to be challenging herself these days (check her out in The Warrior's Way, an overlooked, underseen and quite enjoyable escapist treat) and the challenge here finds her at the top of her game so far.

If the fights and ferocity seem finally a bit too much, you can count on Levinson to modulate and bring us back to the what's most humane in his little group. "It seems that there has been an inor-dinate amount of drama since we got here," once character notes, in the midst of it all. Oh, honey -- you don't know the half of it.

Another Happy Day (119 minutes, from Phase 4 Films) opens today, November 18, in New York City at the Village East Cinema,

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