Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: We Need To Talk About Kevin vs. Another Happy Day, two dark dramas about what happens when family issues reach near-atomic intensity.
Premise The trailer for We Need To Talk About Kevin follows the story of the love, marriage and offspring ofTilda Swinton and John C. Reilly. As Buddy Holly’s voice fades, we meet said baby, Kevin. From infancy to teenagedom, Kevin exhibits A nasty demeanor, especially when addressing his mother. Combine the creepy overlay that has teenage Kevin, Ezra Miller, giving a haunting speech on the nature of sensationalist journalism and his role in it, and the hint of an incident at his high school at trailer’s end, and we know that little Kevin is about to pull some horrible stunt. Another Happy Day follows the actions of another unhappy mom, played by Ellen Barkin, who must weave through the emotional land mines of a single day, her estranged son’s wedding. Along for the ride are her three other kidsâ??a depressed drug addict for a son (Ezra Miller, again!); one daughter with a troubled history, Kate Bosworth; and a second son, Daniel Yelsky, who we only know exists when we catch a glimpse of him filming at the start of the trailer, and the small description of the movie we read below it. Add to that the anything-but-functional relationships with Barkin’s mother, Ellen Burstyn, her ex-husband, Thomas Hayden Church, and his wacked-out wife, Demi Moore, who requests they communicate only under the guidance of a psychiatrist. We’re gonna go with We Need to Talk About Kevin on this one. Though Another Happy Day promises its fair share of complex and messy familial relationships, and the acting talent to pull them off, Kevin just has that “can’t look away from a car crash”-quality. Is the quietly maniacal Ezra Miller, as Kevin, a product of nature or Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly’s nurture? It’s that burning question that seals this battle. Advantage: We Need To Talk About Kevin
Matriarch Both Tilda Swinton and Ellen Barkin take on some heavy, heavy roles with their respective mommy movies. Tilda’s character suffers through a tense relationship with a son who turns out to be a sadistic sociopath, while Barkin’s neurotic character attempts to hold it together in the face of a number of self-destructive obstacles brought on by her family. Both are accomplished actresses, as evidenced by Swinton’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 2007’s Michael Clayton and Barkin’s 2011 Tony for Best Featured Actress in The Normal Heart. But while both show that acting talent in their respective mommy roles, there’s something about Swinton’s quiet, suffering face… We’re happy to see Barkin back leading a picture like we’ve seen her do before, and obviously we can’t wait to see her duke it out with Demi Moore; however, the pained nuances of Swinton’s languid face edge her out for the win. Advantage: We Need to Talk About Kevin
Supporting Cast In terms of the rest of the acting talent, there are few things that need to be said about We Need to Talk About Kevin. First off, we love John C. Reilly, whether he’s playing serious or hilarious. His casting is yet another creepy, grating angle in the thriller. Even in the few minutes of the trailer, it is obvious Ezra Miller, as teenage Kevin, kills (ha ha). That said, Another Happy Day has a lot of firepower. Ezra Miller channels a less sadistic, more masochistic drug-addicted teen as Barkin’s son. Kate Bosworth is a perfect fit as a fragile older daughter. Ellen Burstyn, in what few scenes we see, proves she’ll play crazy self-obsessed mother to perfection, as we’ve seen do in her Oscar-nominated turn in Requiem For A Dream. Finally, the pairing of Thomas Hayden Church and Demi Moore as Barkin’s ex-husband and his former-stripper-turned-second-wife (enter requisiteÂ Striptease sequel joke here) just begs for non-functional fun. Advantage: Another Happy Day The Screwed-Up Stuff Now, in the battle of the dysfunctional, the race is quite close. In We Need To Talk About Kevin,Â we are promised tense years of mother-son relationship, a sister with only one eye, and aÂ horrifically tragic end that does not bode well for anyone, especially for Kevin’s classmates.Â In Another Happy Day, on the other hand, tragedy is around every corner, whether it is estrangement from children, teenage drug addiction, less than supportive mother and sisters, or nut-job second wives. Do you prefer a movie with an Elephant-like bloody high school massacre end or some American Beauty-type dysfunction? For us, the menacing detail of Kevin‘s littleÂ sister having one eyeâ??and the menacing question of how she lost her other oneâ??loses this one for We Need To Talk About Kevin. It may be the more messed-up movie of the two, but we’re touchy about little sisters. Advantage: Another Happy Day
Source Material Both films come from some award-winning sources. We Need to Talk About Kevin is adapted from British author Lionel Shriver’s Orange Prize-winning book of the same name. Another Happy Day, meanwhile, was written by the film’s first-time director, Sam Levinson, who went on to win this year’sÂ Sundance Film Festival Waldo Salt screenwriting award for the flick. Both the Orange and the Waldo Salt prizes are fairly recent awards that started up in the ’90s and share some high-profile names in their winner’s list. Orange prize has Zadie Smith and Ann Patchett, while the Waldo Salt award counts Johnathan and Christopher Nolan, as well as Noah Baumbach, among its winners. We’ll have to chalk it up to a tie. Advantage: Tie
Director Lynne Ramsay, the Scottish director of We Need To Talk About Kevin, has had few directorial projects, but all have gone on to become critically-acclaimed award winners. In 1996, she won the Cannes Prix de Jury for her film school short Small Deaths, while her third short, Gasman, won her another Cannes Prix du Jury award in 1997. Ramsay also deserves credit for adapting the original novel for film, and her return to dark subjects appears to be nothing less than exceptionalâ??enough for the film to win entry to this year’s Cannes Festival. Plus, if we totally relaxed with Swinton to the sound of that banging jackhammer, otherwise the bane of our city existence, there must be genius in Ramsay’s technique. For Sam Levinson, the list is short: Another Happy Day being his first directorial and screenwriting debut. But for a first feature, Levinson pulled off a well-written, well-acted debut that won entry into the Sundance Film Festival, no small feat. Both directors deserve the win in this final battle. Advantage: Tie
Verdict In the end, the choice for which movie to see is going to depend on your masochistic factor. Do you prefer watching the visually beautiful story of the life of a devil child and his development into a murderous monsterâ??which reviews indicate amounts to an impressive but torturous moviegoing experience? Or would you rather spend two hours watching a slightly lighter, though equally dysfunctional, story of a screwed-up family played by excellent actors who know how to draw emotional blood? Given the writing, directing, and acting talent in both films, we just couldn’t decide. Winner: Tie