Winner of the Sundance Film Festival’s screenwriting award, Sam Levinson‘s “Another Happy Day” uses the classic black-and-white opening credits Woody Allen favors, but there’s nothing else Allenish about this dark family comedy.
Even at his most biting, Allen believes in the necessity of relationships to make us fully human. Our parents may be crazy, but we’d be a lot crazier without them. In contrast, Levinson’s families live in cocoons of cruelty; they provide each other no comfort, no support, no understanding, no kindness. The characters in “Another Happy Day” are profoundly alone, and better off that way, the film implies, since today‘s expanding families, thick with stepparents and half siblings, furnish only pain.
The movie is another in the burgeoning wedding-as-hell genre, which includes Jonathan Demme‘s “Rachel Getting Married” and Noah Baumbach’s “Margot at the Wedding.” Here, middle-aged Lynn (a harried Ellen Barkin) arrives at her parents’ palatial Annapolis home for the wedding of her estranged son Dylan (Michael Nardelli), accompanied by two younger sons, Elliot (Ezra Miller) and Ben (Daniel Yelsky). These are the children she’s had with her second husband Lee (Jeffrey DeMunn, familiar to fans of “The Walking Dead“), while Dylan and a daughter Alice (Kate Bosworth) are the offspring of a first marriage to Paul (Thomas Haden Church).
Lynn is an anxious, needy mess, and it’s easy to understand why when we meet her parents. Her mother Doris, played with imperious disdain by Ellen Burstyn, radiates disapproval when she looks at Lynn, and Lynn’s two sisters immediately begin gossiping and cackling over Elliot’s drug problems and Alice’s history of self-mutilation. It would be like Cinderella if only Lynn had a fairy godmother. She doesn’t, however, and years of therapy haven’t helped her achieve any emotional distance from her incredibly vile family.