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December 2010

Happy Tears

cast: Parker Posey, Demi Moore, Rip Torn, and Ellen Barkin

director: Mitchell Lichtenstein

92 minutes (12) 2009
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
High Fliers DVD Region 2

RATING: 4/10
review by Danny O'Connor

Happy Tears

Take one: any tears I got from this movie were not happy. Try frustration and annoyance. Take two: Lo, how the mighty have fallen! I mean you: Rip Torn, Demi Moore, and Ellen Barkin. What's good about the movie? It didn't exceed 90 minutes. Yes, the movie has a plot. Yes, I was able to follow it. Yes, Ms Barkin did suffer for her art (more of that later). That's three pluses. And the other point? I'll give it to the pastiche sort of surrealism. (I'm a generous sort of fellow.)

There is 'vulture vision' and two time-slips in the first six minutes which confused me. Rip Torn acts 'a little confused' throughout this movie as his character is diagnosed with 'Benswanger's disease' - a "rare form of dementia" giving him one year, two at the most, left to live. Jayne, played by Parker Posey, leaves her husband, Jackson, the son of a famous dead painter/ artist, to take over nursing duties from her older sister Laura, played by a downbeat Demi Moore. Jayne has the tendency to flick in and out of reality and time-slips in order to tell the story.

Daddy, Joe is his name, is played by Rip Torn at his most bemused, He has a 'nurse' played by Ellen Barkin who acts and looks more like a crack-head junkie, with disgusting teeth, horrid hair, and horribly scrawny fingernails. It must have taken poor Ms Barkin hours longer in makeup to reach these lows than it did the 'mummy' from the old b&w film clip which doubles as a plot cue/ clue.
Meanwhile, back home, Jackson accidentally spills his blood on one of his father's masterpieces when he is trying to build a frame for it. Cue his stay in the funny farm. A plane ride away, Jayne asks her father for the fabled 'buried treasure' of her childhood. Daddy smiles enigmatically. At least I think that's what the cue-card must have said.

Then they have the 'she (Ellen Barkin) stole mummy's pendant' argument resulting in both daughters digging up the backyard with the aid of a metal detector and a hoe. All they unearth are Budweiser can ring-pulls, thanks to some nifty product placement. Goaded by her father's sneers, Jayne organises a mechanical digger, courtesy of the former employee who bought all daddy's tools, and they uncover the family's dead pet dog 'wolfie'. The coffin carries with it the same wording of a curse as the old b&w movie.

Next day, Laura is taken to the airport as she has done her stint of 'daddy cleaning'. However, in a fit of pique she tells younger sister Jayne some long-hidden unpalatable truths about daddy that she (the younger sibling that is) has spent the whole movie up until this point idolising. The argument causes a car crash. I know I was meant to laugh at various junctures in this movie. Sorry but the 'humour' didn't manage the swim across the pond.

Whilst father and older sister are waylaid in hospital, Jayne has the inspiration to hold a yard sale of her parent's possessions, including a wooden pineapple tea caddy - used by the deceased mother as a repository for her knickknacks - sold for a make-weight $25. (Remember this, for it produces Rip Torn's finest bemused look of the whole movie at the closing credits). She tells everyone she is going to put daddy in a home. She takes drugs and has 'mind-blowing sex' with the toy-boy son of the digger-driver.

Laura and daddy return, and everyone thinks old Joe is having one of his 'dementia moments' on top of the digger, but he unearths the real treasure of multiple quarters hidden inside two old milk churns further down the hole. Let's skip to the final scene where an eight-month pregnant Jayne is holding a reunited and healed family dinner with Joe, and his new nurse, plus Laura, her husband and three sons. On the TV in the background we cut to a 'news' story of the wooden pineapple (remember it?), now valued at $100K minimum: cue Mr Torn's finest moment in the movie.

PS. if you look on Wikipedia, you will find Mitchell is the son of artist Roy Lichtenstein. I didn't spot any biographical input disclaimer in the movie, but then again I'm not one of the cognoscenti.



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