All Happy Families (dir. Haroula Rose)
By: Adam Freed
Reviewed as an official submission to the 59th Annual Chicago International Film Festival.
Behind the red brick facade of a classic Chicago two flat lurks the failure-to-launch story of its occupant, Graham Landry. Landry, a man on the wrong side of 40 for a wannabe actor, lives in the shadow of his brother, a working television actor operating under the stage name Will Benson. Their friction-filled relationship, bogged down by years of family baggage, comes to fruition in director Haroula Rose’s dramatic comedy All Happy Families. Although billed as a comedy, Rose’s film gains far more traction in its dramatic moments, ripped from generations of family bitterness lived out silently behind the red brick walls lining innumerable Chicago streets.
Avoiding cliché sweeping postcard images of the second city, Rose frugally relies on the mundane establishing shot of what was once the Landry family home. The two flat’s commonness echoes its lone inhabitant Graham, the last Landry living in his childhood home now owned by his far more successful and problematic older brother. Played with lovable vulnerability by actor Josh Radnor (How I Met Your Mother) Graham isn’t apologetic for the static nature of his life, yet provides hints that he has far more to offer artistically than his fresh from the couch appearance may let on. It isn’t until he reunites with an old friend, turned love interest, that Graham finds time to make an attempt at unlocking his potential.
All Happy Families is a comfortable watch that is interrupted by the uncomfortable dynamics of a family dealing with a bevy of gravitational issues simultaneously. As each of these concerns is layered upon one another there is a sense that one or two of the plot devices would have sufficed, rather than utilizing every possible friction point that an aging family could endure. As a result, the plot feels saturated when weighed against the brevity of its runtime. Forgivably, the film makes little attempt to tie up all of its loose ends, which may not have been possible as life rarely provides simultaneous answers to every challenge. Ultimately, there is far more to enjoy about All Happy Families than there is to criticize, especially for Chicagoland viewers who should find joy in seeing their streets, neighborhoods and well worn local dives alive on screen.
Target Score: 6/10 - A family dramedy that will play better to Chicago audiences than to outsiders. An exploration of family dynamics and wavering loyalty, lifted by a heartfelt performance by its star Josh Radnor.
All Happy Families was reviewed in conjunction with Movie Archer's coverage of the 59th Annual Chicago International Film Festival.