Sometimes we, the public, get lucky and the film world embraces an independent film. Abigail Breslin and Ellen Page have become household names after Little Miss Sunshine and Juno became indie hits. They are both smaller budget films that had mass appeal. There is one actress that has come to epitomize the success of independent cinema. Parker Posey. Her roles in Kicking & Screaming (1996), Henry Fool (1998), and performances in Christopher Guest's Waiting For Guffman (1997), Best In Show (2000) and A Mighty Wind (2003) have led to her unofficial nickname, Queen of the Indies. When I first heard about her role in Happy Tears I wanted to see it regardless of the plot. Parker Posey is a wonderfully quirky actress and I would urge anyone to see her satiric performance in The House of Yes. Happy Tears is the third film written and directed by Mitchell Liechtenstein, whose previous film, Teeth, is a 2007 film about a girl with teeth in her vagina. Demi Moore co-stars alongside Parker Posey as a pair of sisters who are dealing with the rapidly decreasing health of their father, played by Rip Torn. While the film may have benefited from a stronger focus from its director, the performances from its leading cast, including Ellen Barkin, help make Happy Tears an enjoyable mess of a film.
Jayne (Parker Posey) lives in San Francisco and we first meet her in a taxi while she lies to her sister Laura (Demi Moore) about her inability to travel to Pittsburgh until the next day. Laura is in Pittsburgh taking care of their father Joe (Rip Torn), who age and mental instability have made it impossible for him to live on his own. Laura is the responsible daughter, devoted wife and mother of two, and she is awaiting Jayne's arrival so that she can return home to her own family. Jayne has her own psychological issues but she married wealthy and chose to spend an afternoon buying $2800 boots instead of helping her sister. When she finally arrives in Pittsburgh Jayne has trouble believing that Joe is sick. Laura, knowing her sister all too well, is hardly surprised by Jayne's reaction when Joe is unable to control his bowel movements. It is hard for the girls to return to their childhood home after their mother died and they struggle with the progression of their father's illness. Jayne is continually reminded of childhood memories and her return home is made more difficult by Joe's girlfriend Shelly (Ellen Barkin), a women masquerading as a nurse. Jayne must find peace with herself, her childhood and her father. It is a difficult task but she is lucky to have Laura at her side.
Throughout Happy Tears there are various dream sequences for Jayne that seem at out place at first, but then I realized that the scenes symbolized Jayne's emotional state. Parker Posey is a versatile actress and while she plays the egotistical and greedy Jayne with apparent ease, I believe that she could have played the strong and mature Laura with as much focus. I was pleasantly surprised by Demi Moore, considering that her career since the disastrous Striptease in 1996 has become a punch line. With Rip Torn's current legal woes it makes me wonder if the aging degradation on screen was not so much acting as it was reality. There have been better films about siblings dealing with the difficulties of aging parents (The Savages, a 2007 film starring Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman, comes to mind), but Parker Posey is a joy to watch. Her offbeat personality is translated on screen with such ease that my eyes are always drawn to her. It may require her to find the right story and produce it herself, but I believe that there will come a day that Parker Posey delivers a performance that will leave the whole film world speechless. She is too talented an actress to be restricted to the indie film circuit. She made Happy Tears a better film because she was in it.
My rating: 3 stars out of 4.