Saturday, April 20, 2024

Sundance ’11 Sunday: Ellen Barkin Comes Full Circle with Her First Director


Twenty nine years ago, four years before Sam Levinson was born, his father Barry Levinson directed Ellen Barkin in her debut feature, “Diner.” Remember Beth, who was married to Daniel Stern? She wouldn’t put his record albums back on the shelf in the right order.

Now Sam Levinson is 25 and has written and directed his first feature–starring and produced by Ellen Barkin. “Another Happy Day” is a wedding dramedy along the lines of “Rachel Getting Married.” It also comes with a CAA packaged cast of strong players–thanks to Barkin’s agent Bryan Lourd. Among them: Ellen Burstyn, George Kennedy, Demi Moore, Thomas Haden Church, Kate Bosworth, Ezra Miller, and Jeffrey DeMunn, who may be the unsung star of the piece.

The Baker-Hellman clan is gathering for a wedding in Annapolis, Maryland–yes, Barry’s famously from Baltimore, so not that much has changed in Levinson land. The highly autobiographical story revolves around Barkin and Haden-Church’s disastrous first marriage. They produced two children, then married others and had more kids. All the kids have problems, ranging from mild Aspergers to serious drugs, drinking, etc.

Burstyn is the formidable matriarch, cold and unyielding. And, of course, she’s great. Barkin is her needy, drama creating daughter, who is also mother of the Sam Levinson stand in character, played so well by Ezra Miller. Moore is Haden-Church’s second wife, brassy, demanding, spiteful, but maybe not so wrong in her efforts to be recognized.

“Another Happy Day” is better written than directed, although that’s not a criticism. Levinson says he wrote the script at 22. He’s bitten off a lot, with many, many characters. Not all of it works, and the mix of levity and drama is often wildly uneven. But the script finds a lot of real, identifiable relationships that hit home. When the film builds momentum, Levinson is on a roll. For a while.

The main character, Lynn, is clearly written for Barkin. It’s the kind of role every actress of her age dreams of–the whole movie revolves around her. All the actors are top notch. Burstyn, of course, is superb. But I was surprised how likeable and sympathetic Demi Moore was–and that she truly is age-defying.

At the Q&A Levinson said the shoot took just 23 days. Barkin — I will bet–is a strict producer. The movie looks lavish, so potential distributors will have to take all that in account.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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