This is Happening

This Is Happening [2015] is the feature directorial debut from longtime writer Ryan Jaffe. This is a story about a brother (James Wolk) and a sister (Mickey Sumner), Philip and Megan, who are tasked with the uncomfortable and cheerless mission of placing their surly grandmother (Cloris Leachman), Estelle, into a care facility. After learning this news, Estelle, who is neither willing to give up without a fight nor willing to simply be placed away, decides to ditch her grandchildren and hit the road. When Philip and Megan realize that their grandmother has run away, they set out to retrieve her. The result is shenanigans. And also a journey (both literal and metaphorical). But mostly shenanigans.

Meaningful Sounds…This is a film made on a small budget of $200,000 and watching it, you wouldn’t think that this film was made on such a budget. Not only does this film feature notable actors, but this film looks good and sounds even better. The soundtrack is excellently curated—featuring artists like They Might Be Giants, Haim and Courtney Barnett—and the score, by Adam Crystal, reinforces the slightly dreamy quality of this film. The opening song also simply could not be more appropriate. After speaking with Jaffe about the music in this film (which you can read about in the interview on this site), it’s clear that a lot of thought and work went into shaping the soundtrack and score of this film.

Comfortably Familiar Wavelengths… Part road movie, part family comedy; this film does trot on fairly familiar territory. But in a postmodern, poststructural, postracial, postgender world—all of which can be endlessly debated—if you’re not going to reinvent the wheel then you ought to reinterpret it. I’m not sure if This Is Happening is unequivocally successful in its attempt to reinterpret these familiar tropes, because this film isn’t necessarily without problems: As a comedy, it’s not quite funny enough; and as a drama, it’s not quite dramatic enough. But, what I can say is this: This film has a quiet charm to it. Jaffe’s sense of humour is not flashy and neither is his film. Instead, what This Is Happening delivers is a handful of moments to cherish and moments that amuse. Some of which include a marijuana dealer’s eccentric posse of women—one of who seems to have come ready with a cape in case she needs to suddenly transform a la Super [2005] style. Another is Philip’s unceremonious conclusion to a session of phone sex, which, to the credit of Wolk’s delivery, worked quite well. In another instance, Estelle and Megan share a joint and guffaw at the comic value of a deck of playing cards. This Is Happening won’t move mountains or shift paradigms, but it may resonate with those of us who finds ourselves in an imperfect family.

Harmonious Rhythms… Philip is such a great all-American basic, pretty, white boy that it hurts. Though Philip is no Bob, Wolk’s portrayal of Philip is eminently affable. Sumner makes for a good misfit. Leachman delivers a wordless scene that’s equally beautiful and poignant. The three work well together as a set of damaged and flawed people. However, This Is Happening doesn’t get too self-serious as just when a self-reflexive tree metaphor is brought up, a character in the film will actively proclaim that he hates metaphors.

Mild-mannered but good-intentioned.