Release Date: Feb. 19
Director/Writer: Mitchell Lichtenstein
Cinematography: Jamie Anderson
Starring: Parker Posey, Demi Moore, Rip Torn, Ellen Barkin, Christian Camargo
Studio/Run Time: Roadside Attractions, 95 mins.
Complicated yet oddly light family story
Watching a parent’s health deteriorate is always a uniquely excruciating process: For Jayne (Parker Posey) and Laura (Demi Moore), two sisters who reluctantly return to Pittsburgh to confront their alcoholic father’s worsening dementia, the experience is equal parts bizarre and heartbreaking.
Happy Tears is Mitchell Lichtenstein’s second feature (his first, dark 2007 comedy Teeth, remains the definitive text on vagina dentata). Somewhat appropriately, Happy Tears’ title is borrowed from a painting by Lichtenstein’s late father, legendary pop artist Roy Lichtenstein. At bottom, the film is about legacies—what we inherit, what we can change, and how we process the burdens (and blessings) of our DNA.
The father, Joe (Rip Torn), isn’t particularly sympathetic; he’s unfaithful, is entangled with a prostitute masquerading as a nurse (Ellen Barkin) and incessantly cackles the raunchy old blues song “King Bee” (“I’m a king bee baby, buzzing ’round your hive / Together we can make honey now baby, if you let me come inside”). The grotesqueness of the situation is laid bare, but Happy Tears is an oddly light film—at Joe’s insistence, Jayne and Laura dig up the backyard in search of buried treasure, and Jayne periodically indulges anxiety-driven hallucinations (early on, a shoe salesman morphs into a vulture) that lend the film a welcome shot of surrealism. Like any family, Happy Tears is complicated and raw, but not without love.