Happy Tears

At one point in the film Happy Tears, Jayne, the main character, is struggling to explain the value and meaning of her dead father-in-law’s blotchy abstract art, until she finally concedes, “You have to know something about other art in order to appreciate it.” Similarly, it might help to know something about other films in order to digest this vibrant,...read more

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Reviewed by Phillip Maher
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At one point in the film Happy Tears, Jayne, the main character, is struggling to explain the value and meaning of her dead father-in-law’s blotchy abstract art, until she finally concedes, “You have to know something about other art in order to appreciate it.” Similarly, it might help to know something about other films in order to digest this vibrant, sloppy smear of film kitsch, which revels in gaudy dream sequences and absurd plot twists, adding considerable whimsy to what should be a grim depiction of premature dementia. Writer/director Mitchell Lichtenstein manages to invoke the cinematic specter of camp with a touch just light enough to justify the film’s artificial characters, disjointed script, conventional surrealism, and ridiculous special effects.

The film follows two sisters, the aforementioned Jayne, played by Parker Posey, and Laura, played by Demi Moore, who are forced to take care of their father, Joe (Rip Torn), when he begins losing control of his mind (and his bowels) because of a rare brain disorder. Jayne prefers to deal with this miserable situation by escaping into flights of fantasy, which are vividly depicted in hallucinatory sequences, while Laura is more of a realist, though she still indulges in the occasional joint. Initially, Jayne’s visions seem odd and discomfiting to the narrative, but eventually the story accumulates enough absurdity that it becomes nearly impossible to tell which side of Jayne’s skull the action is taking place in. As Joe’s condition deteriorates, the truth about his philandering past emerges, while Jayne begins to fear that her husband may also be losing his mind. Luckily, Jayne’s own descent into familial insanity is buffeted by a series of events with little or no connection to any possible reality, including an insanely profitable yard sale and a tryst with a strapping neighborhood lad who comes in from the rain and dutifully strips off his shirt. Like they say, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure, and comedy is when tragedy happens to someone else. Mitchell Lichtenstein and company do their best to reassure the audience that these tragic events are not even happening to someone else -- they’re happening in Movieland, a magical place where all your problems eventually resolve themselves and there might even be a fortune buried right in your own backyard.

Part of the pleasure of the film comes from knowing something about the personal lives of the actors. When Demi Moore’s character gripes about “the kids, my job, no money,” it’s tough to keep a straight face, and anyone who thinks that Rip Torn’s “performance” as a demented drunk is particularly authentic can just Google his name to see that he’s probably not acting. Also, any viewers who felt nauseous during The Blair Witch Project should close their eyes whenever Ellen Barkin comes onscreen, because her turn as a twitching, filthy crackhead is palpably uncomfortable to watch.

If you’re looking for a stirring family drama or a conventional zany comedy, then this film is basically trash. But if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you might just find something to treasure in Happy Tears.

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  • Released: 2010
  • Rating: R
  • Review: At one point in the film Happy Tears, Jayne, the main character, is struggling to explain the value and meaning of her dead father-in-law’s blotchy abstract art, until she finally concedes, “You have to know something about other art in order to appreciate… (more)

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