Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Movie Review: Another Happy Day

There was a time in high school when if asked if I'd seen a movie I'd probably say no. I was (and in reality still am) a music nerd more than a movie buff. But after two serious relationships with people who owned more DVDs than pairs of underwear and becoming addicted to my Netflix, that's not the case anymore. I'll watch just about anything and while I still haven't seen every movie ever, I think in the last 10 years I've watched just as many movies as albums that I've listened to...actually, probably more.

Now that I'm in graduate school I think the number of movies I watch has probably doubled, if only because I'm so mentally burnt out that it's hard to read sometimes...most of the time. I used to be a big reader. I have two huge book shelves filled with novels (my friend Mike remarked when I moved, "all of these books are unhealthy," because I have that many). As an English minor in college I took just as many literature classes as psychology ones and I used to work for the Modern Language Association. Add in a mother who has a degree in library sciences and that equals a lot of books. My love of literature is deeply connected to my love of psychology. I love to read books and analyze the language used, think about the characters, and connect it all back to the psychology of the human condition. It's probably why when I'm at the beach you won't catch me reading trashy novels but things like D.H. Lawrence. Few things make me happier.

While I will watch trashy movies (because at heart I am a woman and enjoy a good rom-com with a glass of wine), I think I have replaced my love of analyzing great literary works with analyzing dramas. Sometimes the dramas are not acclaimed, knock-out, well loved movies such as An Education. They're easily digestible like Eat, Pray, Love, which I wrote a blog entry about as it made me think long and hard about life and the needs that we all have but don't always think about when trying to find happiness. Or they are smaller independent movies like Incendiary, which not only made me miss London terribly, but left me pondering the intensity and nature of the mother-child relationship for a good week. And sometimes, it's movies that don't have the best reviews (for pretty obvious reasons), but have a story that somehow resonates with me that does it, like The Story of Us, which has a 5.7 review on Imdb but become one of my favorite movies after I watched it a little over three years ago. A movie I watched tonight, with similar reviews, I think will probably enter into my top 10 list if it already hasn't.

When I first saw the trailer for Another Happy Day on Apple.com I was instantly drawn to the plot and added it to my Netflix cue. Starring Ellen Barkin, Ezra Miller, Thomas Hayden Church, Demi Moore, and Kate Bosworth, the movie tells the story of a divorced and dysfunctional family that comes together for the wedding of the eldest son. It's extremely complicated, so I'll try to simplify it as much as possible. Barkin's character was once married to Church in what appears to be an extremely unhealthy and abusive relationship. When their two children were young Barkin left and was given the ultimatum of take Bosworth or take no children at all. Forced to choose, she took the daughter and left, leaving Bosworth's character emotionally scarred. Both parents over time remarry, have more children, and lose touch with the children they did not take. Moore plays the controlling and dramatic step-wife of Church; Miller plays Barkin's troubled son from her second marriage. Throw in a side story of aging parents, and you've got one hell of a wedding weekend.

One thing that many soon-to-be newlyweds worry about is the potential drama that bringing together certain family members who do not normally congregate with each other might bring. I wonder if the bride and groom of this movie did that, and how they felt once festivities were underway, because every moment of this movie was fraught with drama. The reviews picked that apart, claiming that Another Happy Day was over-the-top with its treatment of the melodrama, and that all the arguing made the characters unlikable. But I wonder if these reviewers ever had family drama that they were involved in. Have you ever had to walk on eggshells around feuding divorced parents? Have you ever been overprotective of a someone that you also want to smack for their bad behavior? Have you ever watched helplessly while someone you love suffers from a mental illness? Have you ever been angry with your parents? To me the movie rings pretty true to the kind of things normal families deal with (because let's face it, normalcy is actually functioning with dysfunction) and the mental and emotional exhaustion Barkin portrays is also pretty accurate for someone with a lot on her plate.

Barkin is so exhausted from coping with her long-ago divorce that she smothers her daughter who has suffered great trauma from watching the fallout of her parents divorce and being abandoned by her father. Searching for answers and the right cure for her daughter has led Barkin to micromanage her other children, over diagnosing and treating them for things that may not be real. Her youngest son supposedly has Asperger's because he'd rather relate to the world through a video camera than head on. When your two older siblings are in and out of intensive day treatment centers, wouldn't you have a hard time coping too? Her middle son supposedly has Tourette's because he lies and is verbally abusive, but having just read An Unchanged Mind by John McKinnon, he fits the classic description of a teen who has delayed maturity. I'd probably be angry with Barkin too if she was my mother, as she has reached her breaking point and is often verbally abusive back. Granted that doesn't make her behavior acceptable, but after watching a telling scene Barkin shares with Burstyn (who plays her emotionally distant mother) and the overall stigma her children face for their emotional battles, it becomes clear why Barkin's character struggles as much as she does...and that she needs some therapy of her own.

Having just returned from a family function out of state, this movie left me thinking about my own family and the issues we have faced. No family is without its skeletons, black sheep, and drama. No parent is perfect just like no children grow up without hating them at some point. Another Happy Day powerfully explores these themes and while there is not enough time to explore every one of them in depth, it mirrors the time sensitive nature of life and fear we all have of what happens when you pick at the wounds long left untreated.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I cannot say I glad I am to finally read a review that summarizes my own appreciation for this wonderful movie. I asked myself the same questions regarding the many critics thrown against Another Happy Day: how is it possible that something that managed to capture so beautifully (better: brutally) some incredibly complex issues when it comes to family dynamics got so easily labelled as chaotic, exaggerated or even "annoying"? Maybe it’s just my experience, but family is one hell of a ruthless and unforgiving place, especially when mental illness and abuse are involved, and I personally believe this is one of the few movies in which emotional and psychological violence was portrayed so damn efficaciously. Yes, it was “messy” and unfulfilling, like some kind of unsure sermon that refuses to tell you what to do to make yourself feel better, and that was exactly what surprised me: the viewer struggle to come up with a gratifying conclusion fails and has to fail. That said, thank you again for adding up a little bit of positivity around this movie and great job with your stunning blog! ;D cheers

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