Cloris Leachman and Mickey Sumner in This Is Happening (Seed&Spark/Paladin)

Cloris Leachman and Mickey Sumner in This Is Happening (Seed&Spark/Paladin)

Oh, Little Miss Sunshine, what hast thou wrought? Due to one adorably off-color indie film, we are subjected to quirky dysfunctional families bickering their way across the land in an effort to a) save their family home b) win an absurd competition or c) in the case of the terminally dull This Is Happening, retrieve their adorably abrasive grandmother, who decides to bag out of a retirement community so her dead-as-a-doornail stuffed pet dog can see Seattle one more time. Why Seattle? Because all you need is one stock shot of the Space Needle and poof, you are in Seattle. In the end, everybody is happy and the family dynamic is firmly reinstated.

The focus here is on two siblings, exemplary nice guy and pushover Philip (James Wolk) and pothead and eternal screwup Megan (Mickey Sumner). They are sent by their loser dad, Steven (Judd Nelson, looking like Eddie Money with a shaggy goatee), to pick up their grandmother Estelle (Cloris Leachman) and deposit her in a nursing home. Estelle gets wind of this and takes the car, and the aforementioned stuffed dead dog, along with five pounds of pot in the trunk (placed there by Megan in an attempt to up her low-grade dealer status). The kids follow. Hilarity theoretically ensues.

Unfortunately, the script is deadly tame and wears its sentimentally so far past its sleeve it’s practically dragging on the floor. Wolk and Sumner are charming actors who work up a nice chemistry, but their characters arcs are so obvious and clichéd that there is little they can do. A mid-movie sibling showdown is particularly shrill. Leachman has nothing to do for a good chunk of time but talk to a stuffed dog. Her character in Bad Santa showed more spunk, and there she was in an alcohol-induced coma half the time.

There is one lovely scene that seems to be beamed in from a different, much better film where Leachman sits in front of a mirror and slowly wipes off her make-up and removes her wig before going to bed. She effortlessly shows the fear and loneliness of aging. It’s a hint of where the movie could have gone. Meanwhile, the sibs get to complain, yell, annoy, and eventually reconcile with each other while having such amusing adventures as…well…actually…not much happens. They pick up a hitchhiker (also adorable) and Megan lifts her shirt for a gas station attendant after being caught shoplifting, which is less adorable than it is sexist.

The music’s good, though. It should be, since the film is co-produced by Rhino Records, one of the great reissue labels of modern music. Their taste in cinema, however, seems to be lacking. Skip the film and pick up the soundtrack.

Written and Directed by Ryan Jaffe
Produced by Scott Einziger, Jaffe, Lisa Barrett McGuire, and Matthew F. Weinberg
Released by Seed&Spark/Paladin
With James Wolk, Mickey Sumner, Rene Auberjonois, Judd Nelson, and Cloris Leachman