"Another Happy Day," the tale of a dysfunctional blended family preparing for a wedding, is smart and well-done, but ultimately its anguished, angst-ridden characters become so difficult to watch "you're grateful to see the last of them," says Seattle Times film critic Moira Macdonald. The film is directed by Sam Levinson and features Ellen Barkin,...

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The dysfunctional-family-gathering movie is a tricky thing to pull off — the family members need to be sufficiently messed up as to create interesting drama but not so unbearable that we can’t stand to be in the room with them. “Another Happy Day,” the debut feature of writer/director Sam Levinson, dances on both sides of that line. At its center is Lynn (Ellen Barkin) a stressed-out mother of four: two adult children with her first husband Paul (Thomas Haden Church), two teens with her second husband Lee (Jeffrey DeMunn). All are gathering, at the sprawling home of Lynn’s parents (Ellen Burstyn, George Kennedy), for the wedding of her eldest son, Dylan (Michael Nardelli). As in “Rachel Getting Married,” “Margot at the Wedding” and numerous other movies, preparation for the event seems to bring out the worst in everyone.

Lynn, who seems so stretched to the limit that she might snap at any time, races through the days, trying to sort out the various issues of her children. Three of the four (all but the groom, who’s generically amiable) are challenging: Alice (Kate Bosworth) has a history of injuring herself; Elliott (Ezra Miller) abuses drugs, including his grandfather’s medication; and Ben (Daniel Yelsky), the youngest, is borderline autistic. Meanwhile, Lynn’s also coping with her judgmental sisters (Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Diana Scarwid) and with Paul’s argumentative second wife Patty (Demi Moore). All of these people, and their own extended families, trail through the movie in a way that’s often wittily done: During one argument scene, an unidentified nephew wanders into the kitchen, takes a bottle of booze from a shelf and leaves with it; no one notices.

Barkin pulls out all the stops to play this woman who’s on her last frayed nerve, and she’s often very effective, particularly in a scene in which she breaks down, sobbing that everything in her life has been beyond her control. (Her rigidly controlled mother looks on, unimpressed.) And Moore skillfully makes Patty much more than comic relief (though she’s quite funny); you realize, watching her implode, that this “wicked stepmother” is tired of being invisible. But as the drama and the anguish and the angst and the crises pile on for two hours, “Another Happy Day” becomes increasingly difficult to watch, despite its intelligence and strong cast. You wish this family well, but you’re grateful to see the last of them.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com