Families are one of two things; absolutely wonderful or ridiculously crazy. Thankfully for the family in the new film by Ryan Jaffe, This is Happening, the family is the perfect amount of crazy.
The film follows Philip (James Wolk), and his sister Megan (Mickey Sumner), as he is tasked with informing his estranged grandmother Estelle (the ever brilliant Cloris Leachman) that it is time for her to be relocated to an assisted living home. This isn’t easy as Estelle is a sharp tongued feisty weathered lady who is more concerned with her pancakes and mayo then her own family. When she takes off in an attempt to avoid the new housing situation, it becomes a dysfunctional family road trip to find the matriarch.
At this point, most films of this nature would take the hijinks to the extreme, showcasing Leachman’s comic timing and energy. This isn’t to say that This is Happening doesn’t have the necessary barriers and hiccups, but they aren’t over done. There is much more to this movie then the near misses of reuniting the different generations, and through the comedy we are able to take a deeper look into the complicated dynamics of family relationships.
This multi-layered family dramady benefits from being an indie film. The filmmaker is allowed the opportunity to explore different emotions while the audience plays along. Without having to live up to this mainstream expectation of glitz and glam, the story is able to take an honest look at family. The relationship between Megan and Philip is believable and realistic. The issues beneath the surface never feel forced, as if they were trying to be worse than what they normally would be. This isn’t just a testament to Jaffe’s writing, but the acting prowess of Wolk and Sumner.
The talent doesn’t end with these siblings, but instead is a starting point. It is great to see Judd Nelson again, even if it is only for a brief time. His emergence into the story at the perfect time enhances the dynamic between this strained family just enough to help the story along without being a hinderance. The previously mentioned Leachman is brilliant, bringing a sense of class and pure genius to the role. In one scene while she’s on the run, she is utterly heartbreaking. It focuses on her face for a few minutes, and with minimal action she is able to express a range of emotions that buries deep within your psyche.
This is Happening isn’t a fancy filmed movie chalked full of elaborate cuts or artistic angles. Instead, Jaffe allows the story and the characters to breathe on scene, creating this world the audience can enjoy for a few hours. To be far, there are still scenes with interesting camera work, but it enhances the emotions in lieu of capturing the focus of the viewer.
This film is an entertaining story about family, a fun ride for anyone who has had it up to here with their own family. Yet, This is Happening reminds the audience that family above all else is the solid structure we all need in our life.
This is Happening is now available on the following streaming platforms: INDEMAND (Comcast, Time Warner, Brighthouse, Cox), Verizon, Dish, Vubiquity, iTunes, iTunes Canada, Amazon Instant, Googleplay, and Vudu
Written by Lisa Mejia