Sunday, February 21, 2010

Happy Tears Review

A dysfunctional family is a good place to start for a movie. But how far can dysfunctional go before it turns into simply crude? Mitchell Lichtenstein’s new film, Happy Tears advertises itself as a film about familial love and homecoming. The movie is instead more about coping and accepting one’s family secrets and diseases.

Happy Tears trails two sisters, Jayne and Laura (Parker Posey and Demi Moore respectively) who return to their Pittsburgh home to take care of their father, Joe (Rip Torn), whose health and mental stability are quickly deteriorating.

Jayne is uptight, naïve, and married to a wealthy artist’s son (who has a plethora of his own problems). Laura is a hippie-type with a few children and a European husband whose sexuality is questionable. And Joe is an old man, who has lived a long, morally questionable life, and wants to finish out his days his own way.

Unfortunately, this includes living with a new “lady friend,” Shelly (Ellen Barkin), a dirty crack head. The homecoming is a complete mash up of emotions, secrets, and personal insecurities that all surface in only ninety-five minutes.

The film forces the audience to witness a lot of unpleasant things. Scenarios that are much more disagreeable than the typical plot of daughters dealing with their elderly father. This is not a sweet, nostalgic family drama. Happy Tears is slightly deranged, more than a little unrefined. Viewers will cringe.

Ever have the desire to see someone who has defecated him or herself be washed? No? Don’t see Happy Tears. This is just one of the many troublesome scenes that leaves audiences audibly disagreeing with what they’re seeing. Just wait to see a grimy drug addict eat chicken. But hiding somewhere within this repulsiveness is a lesson about everyone’s own craziness and humanity.

Each character is crazy in his or her own way. One may believe there is gold in his backyard. Another escapes reality by reverting into her own dream world. By the end of the film, the manifestation of “crazy” is unrecognizable. Maybe each of the characters should be committed or maybe they’re all perfectly sane. Who is to say?

Lichtenstein also raises questions about human addictions, disease, and psyche. Many of said questions are asked, but never answered. There are a lot of loose ends to Happy Tears. This is due to the number of plots that arise from just the four central characters, and the number of ways the film could have gone. When watching the movie, one sits and hopes, even begs, it won’t go there, but it does.

Much of Happy Tears
seems unnecessary. Not that it contains superfluous material or fluff, but unneeded plot twists. The movie could have made its point (though such a point has yet to be deciphered) without many of these turns. When the audience watches Parker Posey float on a jellyfish while tripping on an unknown drug that she decides to take during her mental breakdown, they may forget where they started and where they’re going. There are many of these dream-like sequences that utilize animation. Some are dreams, some are flashbacks, and some nightmares. But they are all jarring to the film’s narrative and abruptly remove the viewer. Just one more addition to the movie that poses the question: why?

Maybe the audience isn’t supposed to answer this. Perhaps that’s the point. Just as many of scenes can’t be (and don’t want to be) understood, it is the same with human life. Not everything anyone does can be fully recognized. Everybody has his or her secrets. And yet Happy Tears offers an interesting conclusion to what happens when secrets are revealed. An ending that suggests family does conquer all, even a dysfunctional family. An ending that is also far too civil for the crudeness of the movie.

Though Happy Tears has its obvious flaws, the acting is superb. Posey is frigid and lost in her daydreams, unable to see what’s in front of her. She plays the younger, immature daughter perfectly. She is unable to see any of her father’s flaws and idealizes her twisted childhood. She does this convincingly. There is no doubt that when Posey stands there, arm cocked at the elbow, walking around aimlessly looking at the ceiling, she’s lost in her fantasy world. Barkin’s character may be revolting and hard to watch (in tight jeans with her thong sticking out, greasy hair, and inappropriate heels), but she immerses herself. So much so that one wonders if those stains on her teeth are real, and if all her rocking back in forth is actually drug-induced. As for the crazy old man, Torn gets his character down too. Stumbling around and making inappropriate comments, Torn seems to be enjoying this old age, while simultaneously making the audience hope their fathers never turn into this. The only character that falls a bit short is Laura, played by Moore. Less convincing as a hippie, Moore and her character don’t astonish the audience like the other characters. But refraining from delving into one more character’s bizarre mind may actually be a blessing.

Happy Tears is not for the squeamish or the sensible. Its tagline reads, “There's an art to going home without going crazy.” This should more accurately read, “Going home is about realizing you’re all crazy.”

(Originally printed in the Johns Hopkins News-Letter)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How to Make It in America

Though I'll admit I haven't gotten into every series HBO's produced, I am automatically more interested in new HBO series, than say...the CW. And even though I couldn't watch How to Make It in America's premier this past Sunday (living without a TV has some pitfalls), I was extremely happy to find out I could watch it online at Produced by Mark Wahlberg and some of the others behind Entourage, How to Make It in America is a comedic look at a group of friends trying to "make it" in New York, and what exactly that means. Protagonist Ben (Bryan Greenberg, from Bride Wars and One Tree Hill) is no Vinny (Adrien Grenier), but he has his charm. And his sidekick Cam (Victor Rasuk) is almost as amusing as Drama and Turtle if you could combine the two. I guess the idea isn't really to compare the two shows though. I'll have to wait to see the second episode to decide if I really like the show, but they've definitely got me watching.
If nothing else has hooked me, the music has. The show's theme song (Aloe Blacc's "I Need a Dollar") is perfect. Oh yeah, Kid Cudi is also in the show. Random, yet somehow amusing. Some of his songs make an appearance too. Watch the episode, then download and listen to the episode's mixtape. Check out more about the show here too. My final decision about the show and if its plot lines are engrossing enough will be made next Sunday. Has HBO done it once again?

Monday, February 15, 2010

some tunes now

What Makes Him Act So Bad - Adam Green
Rain - Mika

Taxi Cab - Vampire Weekend
Rude Boy - Rhianna
Imitosis - Andrew Bird
I Hate College (remix) - Sam Adams

the 100th post!

This is my 100th post. It's sort of mind-boggling that I've been writing this blog for over a year now. Anyway, I was struggling to decide what my 100th post should be about. It's gotta be a big one, right? Well last night I finished reading the December/January issue of The FADER, and am instead going to post about an awesome article from the issue.

Stand-up comedian Aziz Ansari conducted an email interview with Animal Collective that was much better than a lot of interviews I've ever read. The questions asked were funny and actually engrossing. The band members answered openly and I got a real sense of the who these guys are. Here are my favorite parts of the interview:

"I sometimes can be a bit ageist, but I try really hard to get over it. A few years back I had a friend who was 28 and dating a 20-year-old and they came to my house for dinner. It was one of the first times I was hanging with him and I wanted us to get along. But then something came up about Ghostbusters and he said he’d never seen it, and without even thinking I said, “Get out of my house.” - Brian Weitz

"We are working on this movie with our friend Danny and for one of the “scenes” I had to wear a costume that involved me putting Vaseline and glitter on most of my upper body. What a bad idea. I must have spent three hours in the shower scraping all that shit off. I think I almost cried cause I thought it never would come off. There is probably something that easily removes it, but I don’t know what it is. So keep that in mind if you are ever thinking of putting Vaseline and glitter all over yourself." - Dave Portner

Read the interview online. I think it translates better on the website because The FADER could print all the photos and videos with the emails. Either way, it's still pretty badass. Also, I usually keep my computer next to me when reading The FADER, but I just discovered that they have a podcast (which I now subscribe to) and has made my life so much easier! Ah, what would I do without technology? You can also get free downloads
from The FADER website. Boss.

Monday, February 8, 2010

blizzard scones

Anyone from the Baltimore-Washington area knows this weekend was a cold and snowy one. We were hit with over two feet of snow, and in a city where this is unusual, the feeling was almost apocalyptic. Snow was piled far above cars, main roads were completely shut down, an eerie calm took over the city, and people walked in the streets freely. I figured there was no better time to try a scone recipe I had been craving to make than on the morning of a blizzard. The oven kept the kitchen and dining room warm, and the lemon-cranberry scones were enjoyed by my lucky roommates (who devoured them). Days after the storm hit, businesses are still closed, buses and airports aren't running, and universities have canceled classes. We're expecting another 8-10 inches between tomorrow afternoon and Wednesday. I think I may have to make a trek through the snow to get more eggs and lemons to make another batch...maybe even a double batch.

The scones were easy to make and absolutely delicious. I found the recipe on White on Rice Couple, a great food blog. Get their recipe for Meyer Lemon Cranberry Scones...(hint: the scones are still great even if you don't use Meyre lemons).

Gourmet Magazine: The Magazine of Good Living - 1942-2009

This is old news to most, but I've been meaning to write a post about Gourmet Magazine's demise for the last month. In December Condé Nast closed Gourmet Magazine. My mother subscribed to Gourmet and since I was a little girl I would stare endlessly at the beautiful photographs of the food. Gourmet sparked my love for food and cooking, as well as my obsession with food magazines. Now I subscribe and read other ones, but I will sorely miss Gourmet. Luckily when I go back home I can still reread the old Gourmets because my mother has saved all of her issues. Just now they're a collector's item. You can read more about the 67 year old magazine's end at

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Monday, February 1, 2010

Knights of Bostonia by State Radio

There is no doubt that my taste in music has evolved since high school, but some bands I just keep coming back to. And I have continued to follow State Radio's own evolution. Most recent for them has been the completion of the music video to "Knights of Bostonia." The production quality of the video is high (directed and produced by Andrew Mudge), the guys are goofy and having fun as always, and, if you're from the Boston area, the sets are recognizable. Overall, simply a great music video for an awesome song. Watch it below and check out some production shots here.

America the Gift Shop

Artist Philip Toledano asks the question: "If American foreign policy had a souvenir shop, what would it sell?" His is answer is poignant, but slightly nauseating. His installation America the Gift Shop features typical tourist souvenirs (postcards, snow globes, mobiles) with disturbing images of America's recent and less than proud moments. An inflatable Guantanamo Bay life-size prison cell. A doll called "Ibrahim the Eviscerated." A fairground cutout featuring a faceless Abu Ghraib prisoner and Lynndie England giving the unforgettable thumbs up. Such "souvenirs" or gag gifts have been made before, but their subjects were more tame like a Hilary Clinton nutcracker or toilet paper with George Bush's face on it. Toledano's art isn't supposed to be funny, it's supposed to be shocking and it is. One feels more perplexed looking at it and a bit more queasy.

Toledano writes of his exhibit, "Once the sugar coating of the ordinary dissolves, we are left with the grim truth about where we've been as a nation....Fingers must be pointed, and pointed publicly. Then, and only then, when the world sees us acting as we tell the world to act, will America's honor be restored." See his full exposition here:

listening right now

© Richard Misrach

warm thoughts while shivering in bed...and hot tunes to accompany. currently into:

Ambling Alp
- Yeasayer
Animal Baby - Alex Winston
The Magic Position - Patrick Wolf
Patron Tequila - The Paradiso Girls, ft. Lil' Jon
You've Got the Love - Florence & the Machine
Plastic Jungle - Miike Snow
The Fear - Lily Allen
Wonderful Night - Fatboy Slim