Sundance Video Review: How Did Another Happy Day Win A Screenwriting Award?
By Sunday Park City was seeming mighty empty, overtaken by skiers and people who had no opinion on whether or not Like Crazy deserved to win its Grand Jury Prize. But Matt Patches and I had time for one more movie before we boarded our red-eye flight back to New York City, so we gathered at the Prospector Theater with a surprisingly robust crowd of other stragglers to catch Another Happy Day, the winner of the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for writer/director Sam Levinson, the 25-year-old son of director Barry Levinson.
You could say "like father, like son" and compare the younger Levinson's debut to his father's successful works, like Diner or Wag the Dog; unfortunately in this case the closer comparison is What Just Happened, a big sprawling mess of characters and ideas that never gels either as comedy or drama. Levinson stretches himself way too far as a first-time writer by creating 5 or 6 main characters with half a dozen more supporting players surrounding them, and none of them ever taking shape as actual dynamic human beings. Coming the closest, but really only because she has the most screentime, is Ellen Barkin as a mother struggling struggling struggling: she's got one kid getting married, another (Kate Bosworth) coming home from the mental hospital, another (Ezra Miller) fresh out of rehab and being a twerpy teenager, and one more (Daniel Yelsky) being awkward and mildly autistic. Oh, and her ex-husband (Thomas Haden Church) is coming to the wedding with his trampy second wife (Demi Moore), and wouldn't you know it, grandpa (George Kennedy) is dying even as grandma (Ellen Burstyn) won't admit it.
The film runs down a litany of tragedies and spats and old grudges renewed, and each of them brings Barkin to the verge of tears-- the actress seems to be crying in literally every scene, and since we've never known her character when she wasn't coping with familial disaster, it's hard to feel that we know her at all. There's some lovely cinematography, some well-wrought turns of phrase and a handful of performances worth holding on to-- Burstyn gets one scene to let loose, and she runs with it-- but the narrative is so muddled, and the characters are nonexistent, that it's a long slog to get to those small points of light. Another Happy Day is more of a potential crowdpleaser than a lot of what screened at Sundance this year, but with such muddy writing and no characters worth caring about, it's no surprise that it's yet to find a distributor.
Coming out of the theater I couldn't find the tripod that Patches and I would use to record the video blog, so I held the camera and let him take the frame. Watch the video below for more thoughts on the movie, and check back later for our final-- yes, final!-- video blog from Sundance. It's recorded in front of some slot machines, and you don't want to miss it.
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