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Happy Tears
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by brianorndorf

"The comfort of memories"
2 stars

Digesting “Happy Tears” requires a particular effort of endurance. It’s not an unpleasant film, but it takes off into some rather bizarre directions, a few of them surreal in nature, which provides the twists and turns director Mitchell Lichtenstein is angling to achieve. While I’m mixed on the film, I must admit it’s nice to have the filmmaker back with a more human perspective, after his last film “Teeth” detailed the adventures of a woman with a murderous vagina.

Living in a buffered state of comfort with money to spare and idealized memories to keep her happy, Jayne (Parker Posey) is forced to contend with the harshness of life when her sister Laura (Demi Moore) beckons her to Pittsburgh to assume care for their unraveling elderly father, Joe (an aptly cast Rip Torn). Returning to the confusion of her youth, Jayne is forced to confront the psychological complexities of her life, while also learning of Joe’s less than saintly existence, personified by his live-in mistress, a crackhead named Shelly (Ellen Barkin). Dealing with Joe’s growing dementia, her husband’s overwhelming stress as the son of a famous artist, and dodging Laura’s probing ways, Jayne is thwacked by reality for the very first time, struggling to hold on while her life turns upside down.

Assuming Jayne’s bewildered perspective on life, “Happy Tears” floats around in the vast space between memory and reality. The character is not an easy ditz primed for a rude awakening, but a brittle woman used to the comfort of her mind, which has helped to wash away sins blatantly in front her eyes, while cleansing her recollections of youth. Lichtenstein’s screenplay focuses on this spastic awakening within a woman who’s done a masterful job keeping pain at arm’s length. Through a life affixed to the art world, Jayne is handed a series of surreal asides by the director to help visualize her disconnect from the business of honesty, sold impressively through Posey’s jittery, capable performance and an unexpected series of visual effects.

“Happy Tears” is an unusual film, but its eccentricity doesn’t always equate to satisfying drama. In trying to keep Jayne’s mania a secret corner of her mind, the film’s emotional reach is blunted, making the picture more about observation than investment. It’s a frustrating reservation that keeps the feature away from becoming a truly engaging experience, which doesn’t seem right considering the script’s attention to the details of sisterhood, paternal disillusionment, and grief. The director aims more for the gags than the heart, which ends up flattening the picture, growing less compelling the more the movie dwells on frigid bits of oddity. The actors try to inject their own sense of significance, but Lichtenstein pushes it all away, more comfortable standing on a dreary middle ground than taking a chance with a soulful excavation.

Cheating a bit with a few convenient developments in the third act, Lichtenstein gets “Happy Tears” halfway there. It’s rarely dull and is confidently guided by the cast, but it offers little in the way of overall impact, despite creative visual flourishes and a screenplay rooted in the devastating game of personal reflection. It’s cold to the touch.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=20032&reviewer=404
originally posted: 06/19/10 10:51:24
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Starz Denver Film Festival For more in the 2009 Starz Denver Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/20/10 JEREMY The flip side of all those feel-good Disney family films. 3 stars
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  DVD: 15-Jun-2010


  DVD: 15-Jun-2010

Directed by
  Mitchell Lichtenstein

Written by
  Mitchell Lichtenstein

  Demi Moore
  Parker Posey
  Ellen Barkin

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