Another Happy Day The Feature Film Debut of Writer and Director Sam Levinson
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A wedding at her parents' Annapolis estate hurls high-strung Lynn into the fire of primal, Byzantine family dynamics. It's the wedding of Lynn's son, whom she was deprived of raising because of her acrimonious divorce, and a feud still rages between Lynn and her ex-husband's hot-tempered wife. Meanwhile, the three children Lynn did raise display a panoply of disturbing behaviors like cutting and drug addiction, which Lynn's mother and sisters alternately ridicule and blame her for. As Lynn attempts catharsis, her mother sweeps issues under the rug, but painful truths bubble and spurt. Clan members deploy ricocheting arrows to protect themselves-and wound others-as the fine lines between victims and perpetrators blur.
Another Happy Day Official Trailer
Winner of the Sundance Film Festival's prestigious Screenwriting Award, ANOTHER HAPPY DAY is the feature film debut of writer and director Sam Levinson. The film is a powerful, darkly comic story of a woman struggling to find her place in a volatile family dynamic and features an outstanding ensemble cast led by Ellen Barkin who also produced.
A family weekend is fraught with emotional landmines for mercurial and sensitive Lynn (Barkin) as she arrives at her parents' Annapolis estate for the marriage of her estranged eldest son Dylan (Michael Nardelli), accompanied by her three younger children (Ezra Miller, Kate Bosworth, Daniel Yelsky). Lynn's hopes for a joyful reunion are crushed as her wry but troubled middle son Elliot (Ezra Miller) lobs verbal grenades at his mother and her relatives while daughter Alice (Kate Bosworth), a fights valiantly to keep her longtime demons under control. The weekend quickly unravels as Lynn demands to be heard by her aloof, disdainful mother (Ellen Burstyn), ailing, distant father (George Kennedy) and ever-judgmental sisters (Siobhan Fallon, Diana Scarwid), but most especially by her ex-husband Paul (Thomas Hayden Church) and his hot-tempered second wife Patty (Demi Moore). Confronted, oftentimes hilariously, with the deeply painful, half-buried truths that have given rise to the family's primal web ofresentments and recriminations, Lynn struggles to maintain her equilibrium as her best attempts at reconciliation veer quickly off-course.
A family weekend is fraught with emotional landmines for mercurial and sensitive Lynn as she arrives at her parents' Annapolis estate for the marriage of her estranged eldest son Dylan, accompanied by her three younger children. Lynn's hopes for a joyful reunion are crushed as her wry but troubled middle son Elliot lobs verbal grenades at his mother and her relatives while daughter Alice, a fights valiantly to keep her longtime demons under control. The weekend quickly unravels as Lynn demands to be heard by her aloof, disdainful mother, ailing, distant father and ever-judgmental sisters, but most especially by her ex-husband Paul and his hot-tempered second wife Patty. Confronted with the deeply painful, half-buried truths that have given rise to the family's primal web of resentments and recriminations, Lynn struggles to maintain her equilibrium as her best attempts at reconciliation veer quickly off-course.
A wedding brings together one very dysfunctional family in this dark comedy. Lynn (Ellen Barkin) was married to Paul (Thomas Haden Church), but they split up on bad terms, and Lynn took custody of their daughter Alice (Kate Bosworth) while Paul got their son Dylan (Michael Nardelli). Years later, now that Dylan is getting married, Lynn is attending the wedding at Paul's estate, with her younger sons Elliott (Ezra Miller) and Ben (Daniel Yelsky) in tow; Elliott is a chronically depressed drug addict and Ben prefers to look at life through a camera than confront the world head on. Meanwhile, Alice deals with her anxieties through cutting, Dylan hasn't spoken to Lynn in years, Lynn is fearful of Paul and his wife Patty (Demi Moore), Lynn's mother (Ellen Burstyn) blames her daughter for her family's many troubles, and her father (George Kennedy) is in poor health and hardly cares what's happening around him. To the surprise of no one, all this has left Lynn an emotional wreck, and she's not sure just how she's going to get through the day. Another Happy Day was the first feature film from writer and director Sam Levinson, and received its world premiere at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. - Mark Deming, Rovi
Another Happy Day: Sundance Review
1/23/2011 by John DeFor | hollywoodreporter.com
A family-dysfunction film that walks a fine line, "Another Happy Day" earns its share of dark laughs without ever trivializing the very real pain almost all its characters endure.
PARK CITY -- A family-dysfunction film that walks a fine line, Another Happy Day earns its share of dark laughs without ever trivializing the very real pain almost all its characters endure.
Commercial prospects are solid within the dramatic arena, though ad campaigns leaning too hard on the comic element could lead to disappointed audiences.
First-timer Sam Levinson proves to be a confident and unshowy director, one fortunate to have a skillful cast investing its all in his screenplay. Though some of the movie's performances flirt with caricature (Siobhan Fallon's loud-mouthed aunt, Demi Moore as a brash and overtly sexual second wife), the movie has a center of gravity just strong enough to contain them.
Ellen Barkin plays Lynn, a mother who has made her share of missteps but wasn't dealt a great hand to begin with. Lynn comes very close to collapse (and gets in one actual catfight) while trying to wrangle two troubled sons and a disturbed daughter through an already stressful family event -- her third son, raised by Lynn's estranged husband (Thomas Haden Church, paired with Moore), is getting married at Lynn's parents' Anapolis home. It's a scene promising fraught reunions and grudge-driven friction, particularly between the two women who call the groom "son."
Barkin, who produced the film, has secured for herself a full-tilt role requiring a thousand shades of vulnerable agitation and angry desperation; she's made for the part, and manages to elicit both disapproval and sympathy from the viewer, sometimes simultaneously. But the actress has competition in Ezra Miller, who as Lynn's drug-abusing, emotionally damaged middle son is the movie's sardonic, damaged soul.
The picture is littered with supporting turns that leave their mark, particularly that of Ellen Burstyn, who as Barkin's mother, Doris, typifies the kind of moral ambiguities Levinson's script trades in: When Doris criticizes Lynn's need to make a big deal of every emotional obstacle, she isn't wrong. But the kind of stuff Lynn faces -- an ex who abused her and is still treated sweetly by her mother, a self-harming daughter about to have to encounter him after six years of fearful distance, a son who curses at her and sabotages every attempt at normalcy -- is enough to make anyone crack.
The angsty-wedding film may be its own genre now, and our overfamiliarity with its building blocks make one or two sequences here, especially the post-nuptials toasts and drunken dance-floor action, feel somewhat longer than necessary. But when ante-upping mishaps interrupt the party, Levinson is firmly back in control -- playing both grief and relief with a similar restraint, and refusing to milk the action for the cheap catharsis typically seen in these we're-all-messed-up-together affairs.
Another Happy Day
November 18, 2011 By Kyle Smith | nypost.com
Sometime they’ll make an indie film about a non-dysfunctional wedding, but “Another Happy Day” is not it. If you liked “Rachel Getting Married” or “Margot at the Wedding,” you probably have good taste, so you should avoid this one.
Hurt feelings and dark secrets abound during an upscale wedding weekend presided over by a frazzled mom (Ellen Barkin). Thomas Haden Church plays her ex, Demi Moore his second wife, and George Kennedy is a doddering grandpa who keeps threatening to die in a funny way (and eventually does). There’s a precocious little kid who might have Asperger’s, a cynical teen who is in and out of rehab and a sister of the groom who likes to cut herself. She’s played by Kate Bosworth, who after years of failing to live up to her hype machine should probably be doing something more in line with her talents, such as toothpaste commercials.
This motley crew (plus Ellen Burstyn as Grandma) spends the movie giving speeches about how woebegone they are and arguing about who hurt whose feelings more. Hey, I get it: Even at a supposed celebration, the well-bred and well-off aren’t really happy at all. So the title is ironic. Thanks for that profound insight.
Down the Aisle, Laden With Family Baggage
ANOTHER HAPPY DAY
Directed bySam Levinson
NOV. 17, 2011 By STEPHEN HOLDEN | nytimes.com
Watch as the mighty Ellens — Burstyn and Barkin — go head to head, playing an embattled mother and daughter, in “Another Happy Day,” the emotionally overwrought debut feature from Sam Levinson (son of Barry). This wedding melodrama, in which generational and marital factions of a strife-torn family collide, seems acutely aware of its place in the lineage of a genre that it carries to a screeching decibel level.
Squeezed from both sides — the bridal pornography of reality television and the fraught institution of marriage itself — the wedding melodrama has become an irresistible microcosm for filmmakers examining American social stress. Robert Altman’s 1978 satire, “A Wedding,” was the first modern movie to lob a stink bomb into the wedding cake, and missiles have been raining down ever since.
Like its recent forerunners, “Rachel Getting Married” and “Margot at the Wedding,” “Another Happy Day” is both anguished and histrionic and in its strongest moments very, very good. But it is also overpopulated, strident and constitutionally unable to step back and scrutinize itself.
Ms. Burstyn’s character, Doris, is the bitter, fluttery, casually racist matriarch of a divided clan that nervously assembles at her estate in Annapolis, Md., for the nuptials of her grandson Dylan (Michael Nardelli) and his fiancée, Heather (Laura Coover). Doris’s husband, Joe (George Kennedy), is ailing, and in the first of a series of alarming medical crises, his pacemaker malfunctions.
Ms. Barkin’s character, Lynn, the biological mother of Dylan, the groom, is the most sophisticated of Doris’s three loud, quarrelsome daughters. Dylan, Lynn’s oldest child, was brought up by her ex-husband, Paul (Thomas Haden Church), and his brassy, feisty second wife, Patty (Demi Moore), whom one character describes as a former stripper and “coke whore.”
Dylan appears to be the only undamaged one among Lynn’s four offspring. Alice (Kate Bosworth), a college student studying child development, compulsively cuts herself. One source of her fragility is her estrangement from her father (Paul), whom she once observed hitting Lynn in the face. (Lynn hasn’t spoken to Paul in years.)
The third child, the 17-year-old smart-aleck Elliot (Ezra Miller), has been through four rehab stints but still drinks and uses drugs and treats his mother with vicious contempt. He is subject to fits of temper, and in his worst meltdown he hurls profanity and spits in her face. Elliot is a milder version of the sociopathic high school boy Mr. Miller plays in the soon-to-open “We Need to Talk About Kevin.”
Lynn’s youngest child, Ben, who has Asperger’s syndrome, totes around a video camera, conducting random interviews.
“Another Happy Day” is not about the bride and groom, who remain undeveloped characters with almost no lines, and it doesn’t even show the wedding ceremony. It is about the miserable guests and their unhealed wounds. Most of all, it is an opportunity for Ms. Barkin, who produced the movie, to munch on the scenery. Her thin-skinned, hysterical Lynn undergoes frequent multiple mood swings as she testily engages with one family member after another, always playing the victim. Ms. Barkin’s exhausting performance is too shrill by half but impressive nonetheless.
The movie, which won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, is structured around histrionic set pieces in which Lynn clashes with Elliot, Paul and Doris, whose composure shatters in a weepy soliloquy that registers as a flashy piece of screenwriting, while straining too hard to shoot the moon. Those titillated by emotional mud wrestling should thrill to Lynn and Patty’s screaming, hair-pulling fight over which one is Dylan’s “real” mother. In the quietest and most convincing confrontations, Paul awkwardly reaches out to Alice.
“Another Happy Day” stands as an unintended argument against treating relationships as exercises in primal therapy when venting your anger only makes it worse.
“Another Happy Day” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It has profanity and drug taking.
TOMATOMETER CRITICS 44% | AUDIENCE 43%
Rotten Tomatoes AUDIENCE REVIEWS
** Jason S January 28, 2012
If you want to be depressed, then just watch this film.
*Maridia B January 21, 2012
Way too many unpleasant characters in this unhappy day flick.
Ed H January 17, 2012
Too much drama and a never ending loop of misery! Enough of this type of film. It had nothing to say at the end!
**½ Thomas W January 13, 2012
This is ANOTHER movie about ANOTHER dysfunctional family spending ANOTHER long weekend together ... and contained practically nowhere in its nearly two hour run-time is happiness which makes Another Happy Day a rather disheartening watch. A mother, Lynn (Ellen Barkin - Ocean's Thirteen, The Fan, The Boy's Life), and her three younger children (Kate Bosworth [Superman Returns], Daniel Yelsky [A Little Help] and Ezra Miller [We Need to Talk About Kevin]) drive to the Chesapeake estate of her parents for the wedding of her distant and estranged son, Dylan (Michael Nardelli). Also on the estate for one-of-the most-depressing weekend weddings captured on film is Lynn's ex-husband (!!! just sleeping a few doors down the hall !!!) with his new wife (played by Thomas Haden Church [Sideways, Spider-Man 3, Easy A] and Demi Moore [A Few Good Men, Ghost, G.I. Jane], respectfully). ALL of the famlly dynamicas are strained and at wit's end; but the "show/wedding" must go on just as the song says and they all try to put on a Happy Face (no matter how short-lived). Lynn also has two sisters who try to keep anybody ELSE from being happy and her parents have "checked-out" ago. Although nothing appears to be any more Lynn's fault(s) than anybody else's, her hoity-toity mother (Ellen Burstyn - Requiem for a Dream, The Exorcist, The Fountain) would argue the opposite. Added to all of this disdain and drama, it is revealed over-the-weekend Lynn's son (played by Miller) has "relapsed" with a plethora of illnesses including Tourette's syndrome. Another Happy Day contains a few choice performances even though the film is very hard to get through. Unless one enjoys emotional distress and anguish ... they should be seeking their "Happy" somewhere else.
*** Arseniy V January 12, 2012
Seems more like a work intended to fill the "wedding-centered family drama" slot, then an exploration of some particular aspect of family dynamics that the filmmakers just had to share with us. Which, in my experience, will always take a film down a notch or two. But if you're in the mood for a bite-sized, high-caliber little soap opera - then this is a good choice. It's no "Rachel Getting Married", but it didn't make me throw up in my mouth either.
**** Lorenzo v January 1, 2012
"I was the one who was always there...not you."
A wedding at her parents' Annapolis estate hurls high-strung Lynn into the center of touchy family dynamics.
Sam Levinson has woven a dark dramedy of epic proportions as Lynn (Oscar-worthy performance by Ellen Barkin) drives her two sons to her mother's house for the eldest son's wedding. Through it all the audience witnesses the public and private meltdowns and sentimentality's of this flawed, and deeply human family. From Lynn's confrontation of her divorcé husband (Thomas Haden Church), to her drug-addled, caustic-mouthed son Elliot's (genius performance from Ezra Miller) flirtation with grandpa's meds, to catty quips from Lynn's sisters, past trauma, guilt, and resentment flow onto the screen. What rises from this fertile emotional landscape are frightening moments, and hysterically funny scenes. For the audience it's an event, but Lynn and her boys it's just 'Another Happy Day.'
Humor is the pallet cleanser for this hearty cinematic meal. The viewer fears for Elliot's life after he nearly OD's on the bathroom floor; then breaks into hysterics as Elliot tries to hide his blue lips with mom's rouge, the following morning. It's all so funny, and so smart. You will be crying as much from laughing as you will from the sorrowful scenes. Performances cut deep with their stark realism. From Ellen Barkin's Lynn, Ezra Miller's Elliot, Ellen Burstyn's Doris, down to 14 year old Daniel Yelsky's Ben - someone is going to get an Oscar nomination here. And if not, then the critics aren't ready for Levinson's dark blend of laughs and tears.
** Brian C December 26, 2011
The film is about a family with serious drama, however I didn't find the drama itself to be engaging or interesting.
*** Nick M December 21, 2011
An emotionally draining ensemble melodrama that appears to exist so that the actors taking part can chew the scenery and ham it up at every conceivable opportunity. And as a fan of over the top performances, I really dug the interactions of the characters. However, when we get down to the nitty gritty of the whole thing, the entire story hinges on the self inflicted abuse of upper class white people who have no idea what real problems are.
***½ Pedro C December 14, 2011
Nice story, very good acting in general, great soundtrack
***½ Walter M ½December 12, 2011
"Another Happy Day" starts with Lynn(Ellen Barkin) driving her two younger sons, Elliot(Ezra Miller) and Ben(Daniel Yelsky), cross country to attend the wedding of Dylan(Michael Nardelli), her oldest son from a previous marriage. However, she is not exactly looking forward to seeing her ex-husband Paul(Thomas Haden Church) and his current wife Patty(Demi Moore). Well at least a therapist will be officiating. And if that is not enough, there is an ambulance in the driveway when they arrive, but luckily it is only a false alarm for her father(George Kennedy) which makes her mother(Ellen Burstyn) feel a little better for now. All of which might explain why Elliot gets so stoned that he does not realize he is wearing two different color socks.
Like its many characters, "Another Happy Day" is not perfect but it is keenly observed in hitting on some truths of a family separated by time zones like this one. While happy to see each other after such a long time, there are also many snap judgments, as some people's scars are more obvious than others', just as the viewer makes his snap judgments about these characters who eventually grow beyond the initial caricatured impressions.(But, oh that poor dog!) That fits in well with Eliot's theories about weddings and funerals. In other words, there is one uniting form of grief(Unless greatgrandad was a Nazi which would be awkward.) but many different opinions on ways to make people happy. And that also speaks to one of the movie's flaws in stating something outright when it is better implying. For example, the one time it insinuates something, the result is devastating, turning the movie on its edge and in Lynn's favor as it eventually becomes clear that she is doing her best to hold things together under not the best circumstances. So, while at first her husband Lee(Jeffrey DeMunn) may seem like the most boring person on earth, he is exactly what she needs in making her laugh.
EXCLUSIVE: Ezra Miller Talks Another Happy Day
11.14.2011 BRIAN GALLAGHER movieweb.com
Ezra Miller discusses Another Happy Day, performing alongside Ellen Barkin, and much more.
If you haven't heard of Ezra Miller yet, that will surely change by the end of the year. The actor stars as Elliot, the son of Ellen Barkin's character Lynn in Another Happy Day, which hits theaters November 18. Ezra Miller also stars as the title character in We Need to Talk About Kevin, debuting in theaters December 9, along with the upcoming adaptation The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which debuts in theaters next year. I recently had the chance to speak with Ezra Miller over the phone about Another Happy Day, which centers on a wedding that could be a powder keg of emotions for a highly volatile family. Here's what the young actor had to say.
Can you talk a bit about your initial reactions to the script, and what you took away from it?
Ezra Miller: Yeah. I was blown away by how many characters were fully understood within the context of a two-hour movie. Usually, you see that sort of subtlety and nuance in the understanding of a whole plethora of characters, as both antagonists and protagonists, as being human beings who are, at times, easy to identify with and, at times, impossible to understand. Usually you only see that in an extended television series, where they have time to explore each character over the course of an hour, or you see it in a really long theater production. The script, at first, it was almost like there was no narrative. There was no plot, but you found yourself in this really undefined cohesive order, falling into sympathetic grasps of each character. When I read the script, I just thought that was incredibly refreshing, because, usually within a movie, you only come to understand or identify with, one or two or three characters. Then the rest just tend to just fall into their archetypes and remain there. (Writer-director) Sam (Levinson) has this understanding of people, where the complexity of the ways and dimensions of a human being, that any character will have so many different sides, and masks, and appearances. When I first read the script, there was just something amazingly refreshing about that.
Yeah, it almost doesn't feel like a narrative feature. It feels like this actual glimpse inside a family. That's how real it felt, to me. It was really wonderful to watch.
Ezra Miller: The official narrative within the dysfunctional family, to this point, has been done. It's been so explored and over-explored. It will never be fully explored, but yeah, I feel like Sam knew his own voice as sort of an alternative storyteller. That's incredibly impressive that he was able to write the script and know, even within the way the camera moves, that you feel this omnipotent voice to Sam's storytelling. It moves you, I feel, compellingly through a story which, essentially, has no direct plot line.
Ellen Barkin also produced this, so she must have been on board when you were approached for this. Who else was attached when you came on?
There is quite an amazing cast here, so were those people who were attached part of the draw for this role also?
Ezra Miller: It was very, very exciting to see in action. Ellen had been involved for years before I got involved and, around the time that I got involved, everyone else was kind of falling into place. I think Kate (Bosworth) had just been cast, and Ellen Burstyn had just come on board. A week later, George Kennedy and Eamon O'Rourke, who played Brandon, came on board, and everything just sort of fell into place, right around the time I jumped on. But yeah, Ellen had been involved since the beginning, and Demi (Moore) was also involved very early on.
What kinds of things did you take away from being around this much talent?
Ezra Miller: It was hilarious, man. It was like being in one of those cheesy Hollywood murals, with Elvis Presley and James Dean smoking a cigar. It was fucking amazing. I'm still not sure how I snuck my way into such a situation. It was like school, you know, college for a dropout actor (Laughs). It's that sort of environment, especially when you have a director who, in the act of production, is still actively learning, it makes it this beautiful open learning experience for everyone. It's actually the best way to make art, because in the given moments when artistic production is really happening, when creation is happening, there's always something new to find. If you can approach it with that sort of receptivity, I certainly found that having a bunch of amazing old-school and new-school actors, all rallying behind the vision of this first-time director who was determined to learn everything, yeah, it became like one big school. Sometimes those school projects are the coolest pieces of art you ever make.
How would you compare Sam's style as a director, as opposed to other directors you have worked with? What did you really take away from working with Sam?
Ezra Miller: I think within him being a first-time director was something that will follow his style throughout his entire career, which is that every day, he was keenly aware of, in the moment, what was really interesting. Even in this world he created, this world that stemmed from his vision, he knew what was really the point of drama or the pinnacle of comedy, of that particular moment. Even though we were moving through a very tight shooting schedule, and working to form his vision within the story, he kept all of this room, this space, to be spontaneous, in what he was choosing to capture. We had these amazing experiences of being able to roll a full canister of film out on improvisation that came out of nowhere, except for what was already happening in the air of the true realizations of the characters and the family that day. I think being able to maintain a vision, while also being that wide open to what is truly popping in any given moment, that's a style in and of itself. That made him very, very cool to work with.
I was just blown away Ellen in this. I have to watch it again, actually, just to take it all in. What was it like being in those scenes with her?
Ezra Miller: It was very intense, you know. It was a great challenge to match her nature of vulnerability, the internal justification for her anger. Essentially, there were some parts of it that were vastly complicated to approach. She had a lot of wisdom, regarding how to breathe thos complexities into life. Sometimes it would be as simple as us listening to the same Cat Stevens song before we stuck up a crazy fight scene. I think a lot of her genius is in this willingness to do whatever it takes to access a performance. She's got this stern determination and this constant rekindling of the commitment to sacrifice for the piece of art. As Sam was responsive to the day-to-day spontaneous truths, she, as well as a lot of the other actors on this, were really determined to create them.
EXCLUSIVE: Sam Levinson Talks Another Happy Day
11.15.2011 BRIAN GALLAGHER | movieweb.com
Director Sam Levinson discusses his feature debut Another Happy Day, working with Ellen Barkin, and much more
As the son of acclaimed filmmaker Barry Levinson, Sam Levinson, naturally, grew up in the movie-making biz. He even appeared in a few of his father's films (Toys, Bandits, What Just Happened), before forging his own path as a writer-director. Sam Levinson makes his directorial debut with the fantastic family drama-comedy Another Happy Day, which opens in New York and Los Angeles November 18. I recently had the chance to speak with Sam Levinson over the phone about Another Happy Day.
Here's what he had to say below.
First off, I just have to say that I really loved this movie.
Sam Levinson: Oh, thank you, man. I very much appreciate that, seriously.
It's been awhile since I've seen Ellen (Barkin) in a role like this. I was just blown away.
Sam Levinson: Yeah, you know, it's one of those things where you write a script, and she was also the main producer on this project, all the way through. You write a script, and you imagine it a certain way, and for three years you're talking to that actor, and you arrive on set and, I thought I had a pretty clear sense of how Ellen was going to play this role, and suddenly, she just turns over a royal flush, and you go, 'Holy shit!' It is a gut-wrenching performance to watch. It's unbelievable. She's brilliant, and I say that with no complement to myself, she is astounding.
Can you talk a bit about how that relationship first started, with her coming on board as a producer and actress?
Sam Levinson: I had written Another Happy Day and I was subsequently offered to do a rewrite on this other project. I did the rewrite and they had this cast attached. I had always had her in mind, after I wrote the script. I love Ellen's work, and I had no agent or manager at the time. I didn't really have a way of getting it to her, really, and what happened was she ended up being cast in this project I did this five-day rewrite on, and they subsequently asked me to go out to set and work with some of the actors. After about a week of working with her and talking with her, I thought enough time had gone by that I could sort of hand her a script, and not feel awkward. She called me about three hours later and just said, 'I'm in.' From that point on, she took the reins, along with CAA, and really started to produce this film and help package it. She said, 'Well, who do you want to go to next?' I said, 'Well, in a dream world, Ellen Burstyn.' She said, 'OK, we'll get it to her.' I said, 'No shit?' (Laughs) Then I met with Ellen Burstyn a week later and she signed on. Then she asked who else I wanted to go to, and I said, 'I needed a formidable opponent for you. I mean no disrespect, but as an audience member, when you go to the theater, you bring certain preconceptions about an actor.' I said, 'Look, that's not saying that you're not a complete fucking chameleon in your work, but it's a preconception that people have, so I need a formidable opponent, not just physically, but someone who can have a valid emotional inner life as well, like a good boxing match.' The only person I could think of was Demi Moore. She said, 'OK, we'll send it to her agent,' so it went out and I meet with her and she signed on. That's sort of how it went. Throughout this process, the script basically remained the same. Every time an actor signed on, the more I would communicate with them, I would tweak lines here and there, just because of the dialogue I would have with the actor. It was a great experience and a very collaborative one, working with Ellen and all the actors on this.
It's got to be great for someone as a first-time director, to have someone like Ellen championing this thing. Was this whole cast pretty much all your first choices?
Sam Levinson: Yeah, it was an absolute dream, truly. I really didn't expect it. I was about 23 at the time, and I had a very clear vision of how I wanted to direct this film, and no actor said to me, 'I want to see a short before we meet.' I feel very grateful for that, because I have no short. I wouldn't have been able to meet with them (Laughs).
I was really taken by Ellen's performance throughout the film, but another thing I was really impressed with is Kate (Bosworth)'s performance at the end. I've been a fan of hers for awhile, but that scene towards the end really blew me away. What was that day like on the set, to explore all those emotions in one scene?
Sam Levinson: You know, Kate is such a receptive and wonderful actor to work with, because she's so willing to go anywhere. Every actor is sort of like that, as long as you set a protective environment, they'll feel comfortable to explore their craft. She was very easy to work with, and with that final scene, she's kind of the only person in the film that really learns how to protect herself, in some way. She does it in a very understated way, and, because of the way it's shot, and when you communicate that to the actors, it changes their performance. I said, 'Look, this is a three-shot. I'm not shooting a close-up.' It was just played very beautifully. Maybe the only thing I was nervous about, in making this film, was that I was going to have to deal with 11 principal actors and their personalities. I was thinking, 'Well, what happens if they start to clash?' It can literally go off the fucking deep end, but, with the help of Ellen, who was not only the lead actor but also the producer, I was able to set a very egalitarian tone on the set, and say, 'Look, no one is getting a trailer that is bigger than Daniel Yelsky's trailer, who is a 13-year-old boy.' No one is getting special makeup, no one is getting this and that.' We all get the same thing. I also asked every actor to be there for the duration of the shoot, whether they were in it or not, so that every actor sort of felt like this was their family, and that they had a duty to help one another. I'd be shooting a seen with 'Burst' and 'Bark,' as they asked to be called, because they're both Ellen B, in one room, and then in another room, I would Jeffrey DeMunn running likes with Daniel Yelsky, or Kate (Bosworth) running lines. It was just a wonderful experience. I cut video village and closed down the set for the entire shoot, which I think was very beneficial, so that the entire cast and the entire crew felt like they had the ability to make mistakes and fail and not be judged for it, because we were ultimately going to get to where we were going to get to. It was a really wonderful thing, you know.
Is there anything that you're currently working on, as a follow-up?
Sam Levinson: Well, there's a script that I'm almost done with. Once this film comes out, I think I'll be able to crawl back into my little creative cocoon, and finish this other piece up, which is wildly different from this one. I was trying to explain it to someone earlier today, and they were saying, 'Well, what's it like?' Well, if everything works out, the way I hope it works out, it would be a mix of Francis Ford Coppola's One from the Heart, Ingmar Bergman's Persona, and Roman Polanski's The Tenant (Laughs). Then I said, 'So, I don't know if that clarifies anything.' In a dream world, that's what I hope this film ends up being, an amalgamation of those three.
Do you have any cast members in mind?
Sam Levinson: Yeah, I do have cast members in mind, but i don't want to jinx myself.
What would you like to say to anyone who's curious about Another Happy Day about why they should check it out in theaters on November 18?
Sam Levinson: Because it's good (Laughs). Because it's a good film, and there is nothing short of blood, sweat, and tears that went into it. In this marketplace, basically every film except giant tentpole films will disappear unless people go out to support them, so go out and take a look at it. It's like life. It is what it is.
Great. That's about all I have, Sam. Thanks so much for talking to me. I really loved the film.
Sam Levinson: Oh, well thank you very much for talking to me. I really do appreciate it. It means a lot to me when people respond to it, and I don't say that in a cavalier way. I really do mean that, so thank you.
You can watch writer-director Sam Levinson's directorial debut, Another Happy Day on November 18 in New York and Los Angeles.