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Featured DVD Review: Happy Tears

June 11th, 2010

Happy Tears - Buy from Amazon

Happy Tears was written and directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein, whose first feature was Teeth, a movie I really liked. I wasn't alone in that opinion. It earned amazing reviews, but struggled at the box office. This film did worse in both regards, but is it a true sophomore slump, or was it unfairly judged and overlooked?

At the start of the film we are introduced to two sisters, Jayne and Laura. Jayne and Laura have different personalities and lives: Jayne being more flighty, married to a rich man, materialistic, etc while Laura is more grounded in both temperament and financial situation. However, they have the same problem on their hands: their father. He's getting up there in years and he's starting to suffer from the expected physical and mental illnesses that come with age. It is clear he will need constant care. As a widower, the sisters will have to be the ones to provide that care. Jayne and Laura have a lot of differences in how they react to this crisis. Jayne tries to avoid it for as long as possible, going so far as to deny there is a crisis. But when that's no longer possible, she wants to take him home to San Francisco to live with her and her husband (who is not having a solid time after the death of his father). On the other hand, Laura wants to put him in a home where he can have medical help. Speaking of medical help, Joe thinks he's found the perfect nurse, Shelly, but her medical qualifications seem suspect. (She does know her way around a medicine cabinet, in a manner of speaking.)

This is hardly an unique story. After all, there have been plenty of movies about adult children having to take care of their aging parents. Likewise, the concept of siblings that have grown apart coming together in a family crisis is also quite common. That said, a film with common themes can still work if the script adds something new, but sadly that's not really the case here. Jayne tends to fantasize when the stress gets too much for her, so there are some special effects shots sprinkled throughout the film. However, like in Lovely Bones, these just adversely effect the tone of the movie. In fact, the tone of the film is arguably the weakest aspect of the movie. Mixing comedy and drama is important and in the right balance they can make the movie better, but instead of flowing from one to the other, the transitions are a little too jarring.

There are good performances in the movie and it is clear this is a personal film for the writer / director, but not enough of it works to really recommend.

As for the extras on the DVD, there is an audio commentary track with said writer / director, Mitchell Lichtenstein, but like his track on Teeth, it is too stop and start to be effective. The dead spots kill the momentum.

The Verdict

Mitchell Lichtenstein created a personal film with Happy Tears, but he doesn't bring enough new to the genre, nor is he able to find a consistent tone for the film to work. Add in a DVD that has very limited extras, and it is worth just a rental.

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