Weddings are the new funerals.
If a movie wants to really stir the pot, showing family members and friends weeping and wailing as they hash over old grievances and inflict new ones, it seems there’s no better setting than a wedding and the days leading up to it.
Consider such recent films as “Rachel’s Wedding,” “Bridesmaids” and “Melancholia” (which opens in theaters Nov. 11 but is currently available via VOD). The latest entry in the weddings as warfare category is “Another Happy Day” — the title is obviously sardonic — in which the bride herself has little more than a walk-on role.
The main player in this often appealing but occasionally strident drama is Lynn (Ellen Barkin), the beleaguered mother of the groom. Her eldest son, Dylan (Michael Nardelli), is getting married and it’s all Lynn can do to keep it together as she spends the wedding weekend back in the suffocating embrace of her dysfunctional family at the stately, waterside home of her parents (Ellen Burstyn and George Kennedy).
Also there is her adult daughter, Alice (Kate Bosworth), who clearly has had a breakdown somewhere along the way and remains in a fragile state, and her whip-smart but troubled teenage son, Eliot (Ezra Miller), who is just back from his fourth stay in rehab, which obviously didn’t take. Adding to Lynn’s emotional turmoil is the presence of her clueless ex-husband (Thomas Haden Church) and his spiteful new wife (Demi Moore).
Altmanesque in its sprawl and sympathetic attitude toward even its most flawed characters, “Happy Day” marks a mostly promising debut for director-writer Sam Levinson, who is the son of director Barry Levinson. (Robert Altman himself took on the comic possibilities surrounding nuptials in 1978’s “A Wedding,” a lesser effort in his canon.)
The movie belongs to Barkin, who gives a poignant, take-no-prisoners performance. Her Lynn as a woman who, like a character out of Beckett, feels that she can’t go on but knows that she must go on. As it becomes ever more evident that not all hurts can be mended or broken bridges repaired, Lynn’s face crumples and the air goes out of her, like a balloon deflating. Then, slowly, she draws herself up again and manages a sad smile because, really, what else can she do?
Of the rest of the ensemble cast, Miller (“City Island”), who looks like a young Bob Dylan, is affecting as the teenage son desperate to numb his own emotional pain by any means necessary. Church is amusing as the ex-husband at a loss about how to fix things, and Moore has a couple of funny scenes late in the film when her uptight character finally unsheathes her claws.