"It's a rehearsal dinner, not the Camp David Accords!" one character sputters, righteously, during writer-director Sam Levinson's "Another Happy Day." The guy is right: There were probably a lot more laughs at Camp David.
Viewers of this sunny trip into domestic hell will share a similar sense of exasperation with Levinson, who employs the cliched tactic of assembling a troubled family at a gathering they can't avoid, without exploiting some of the obvious advantages of the form. Yes, the cast is diverse (when will the callow Ezra Miller and the ripe goddess Ellen Burstyn appear again in a movie together?). And the movie mines the kind of familial discord most of us can relate to -- in part.
But Levinson piles on the anguish with such abandon he never convinces you that these people would ever speak to each other, much less live under the same roof -- even for the short amount of time it takes to pull off a wedding.
Demanding attention like a black hole of psychopathy is the groom's mother, Lynn (Ellen Barkin). If she's intended as the sympathetic center of the film, Levinson has completely misfired. Lynn certainly has some legitimate grievances -- she lost her son Dylan (Michael Nardelli) to her ex-husband Paul (Thomas Haden Church) during her divorce, but kept their daughter Alice (Kate Bosworth), remarried, to Lee (Jeffrey DeMunn), and had two more sons -- the drug-gobbling Elliot (Miller) and the Pugsley-esque Ben (Daniel Yeltsky). Paul may have been an abusive husband, but Dylan has turned out fine -- unlike Lynn's other train-wreck children. This is driving Lynn crazy. And it's a short trip.
The bright spots are Diana Scarwid and Siobhan Fallon, who play Lynn's weird sisters to witchy perfection. They take glee in tormenting Lynn, or flagrantly disregarding her constant litany of complaints and, in doing so, give the audience something to cling to.
PLOT Unhappy family reunites for a wedding, and a gale-force airing of resentments, dysfunctions and pathologies. RATING R (teen drug use, nudity, sexual content, vulgarity)
PLAYING AT Malverne Cinema 4
BOTTOM LINE There's nowhere to direct your sympathies in this rather relentlessly unhappy film.