Destined to elicit waterworks but not, alas, the type promised by its title, Happy Tears succeeds only at suggesting the incompatibility of returning-home dramedy and surrealistic flights of fancy. Taking a giant step backward from his weak-sauce provocation Teeth, writer-director Mitchell Lichtenstein wholly fails to create a stable tone or affecting balance between fantasy and reality for this tale about superficial, sheltered Jayne (Parker Posey), who travels to Pittsburgh at the request of her older sister Laura (Demi Moore) to help care for their dementia-addled lothario father Joe (Rip Torn).
Jayne is the type of cluelessly cheery twit who cares only for expensive leather boots and romantic fairy tales, which makes her arrival at Dad’s something of a shock, given that Joe greets her by shitting his pants, thus requiring both women to shower him off. From there, it’s nothing but one dreary dysfunctional family crisis after another, replete with revelations about long-hidden truths, whether it be Jayne’s recognition that her wealthy hubby (Christian Camargo), the son of a famous painter, is insane, or that Joe is a womanizing scumbag who cared little for his matrimonial vows of fidelity even as his wife was dying of cancer.
Posey and Moore are a nicely matched sibling pair, but their offhand chemistry is all that’s going for this leaden mush, which otherwise wastes time on tin-eared comedy bits involving Joe’s crackhead girlfriend Shelly (Ellen Barkin, her botoxed and collagened face a natural fit for her skank-golddigger role) and a search for treasure Joe supposedly buried in his backyard. All the while, Jayne is beset by nightmare visions of Shelly sucking Joe’s blood and becoming pregnant as she lies on a giant jellyfish, sequences that exude plenty of forced whimsy and magic but zero inspiration. Happy Tears hasn’t a clue how to meld its disparate serious/humorous/psychedelic elements, its ingratiating clichés, half-formed characters (and resulting indistinct performances) and meandering narrative twists resulting in a muddle whose only spark of authenticity is the sight of recently jailed boozehound bank robber Rip Torn acting like a deranged lunatic.