Monday, 24 January 2011
SUNDANCE 2011: Another Happy Day
Starring: Ellen Barkin, Ezra Miller, Kate Bosworth, Demi Moore, Ellen Burstyn, Thomas Haden Church, George Kennedy
By Alan Bacchus
This ambitious multi-character family drama might just set a new benchmark for cinematic conflict. Writer/Director Sam Levinson throws us into the centre of a long family feud which comes to a head on the days leading up to the wedding of the son of Lynn (Ellen Barkin), the film's high-strung protagonist.
The backstory goes back 20 years when Lynn and her then husband Paul (Thomas Haden Church) split up, each taking one of their two kids - one of whom, Dylan, is due to get married in the present. This bad decision, which may or may not have been one-sided, infected everyone else in the family like the plague, where now, in the present, unhealed scars continue to run deep.
Levinson writes in an ambitious number of key characters, a dozen or so, from three generations of the family, all of whom have been scorned at one time another by each other. I've already described Lynn, a lightning rod for anger, but her son from her second marriage Elliott, suffers from suicidal tendencies and has been in and out of rehab; younger son Ben has been diagnosed with autism, or Aspergers even though he shows no symptoms; Alice, Dylan‘s brother, also has suicidal tendencies and has the scars on her wrists to prove it; Paul’s wife, played by Demi Moore, is a raging bitch who resents Lynn’s attempts to mother Dylan whom she abandoned those many years ago. Adding to the despair is Lynn’s father (George Kennedy), who spends much of the picture near comatose on his deathbed, taken care of by her ineffectual mother (Ellen Bursytn). And lastly there’s Lynn’s new husband, who is out to lunch to all the drama, and is too aloof to help his wife cope.
It’s one argument after another between these folks, an emotional beat down of monumental proportions. Levinson tries to inject a dead pan comedic thoroughline, but unfortunately the laughs are just not strong enough to push through the overwhelming heavy drama.
Three quarters of the film works, but sadly Levinson just can’t juggle all these balls at once and deliver a completely satisfying film. And it’s not the downbeat nature of the subject, Paul Thomas Anderson did this so magnificently in Magnolia, same with Robert Altman in A Wedding, and Thomas Vinterberg in The Celebration. Levinson just can’t find a consistent tone to tie all his elements together. For instance, the finale features a strange musical selection laid overtop of a lengthy montage sequence intercutting each character’s movements during the reception dance. Some questionable editing and the tonally off-the-mark music doesn’t add up to the significant payoff Levinson seemed to be building to.
Levinson, as a first-time feature director, seems to be reaching farther than his grasp. But his risk-taking demonstrates that he may just reach his lofty goals in his second or third film.