'This is Happening': Film Review

This is Happening Still -H 2015
Courtesy of Adam James

It may be happening, but it isn't much.

Two warring siblings pursue their wayward grandmother in this dark comedy.

Combining the most clichéd tropes of dysfunctional family comedies and wacky road movies, Ryan Jaffe's debut feature manages to squander the talents of several notable actors, including Oscar winner Cloris Leachman and television star James Wolk. While the latter has been seen to far better effect in such shows as Mad Men, Zoo and Political Animals, he can relax knowing that This is Happening is likely to go largely unseen in its theatrical release.

Fruitlessly employing his handsome, laid-back charm, Wolk plays Philip, whose sad sack character is instantly signaled by his having an obnoxious, sexually demanding girlfriend. Assigned by his father (Judd Nelson, and doesn't that make you feel old?) to escort his grandmother Estelle (Leachman, wearing a garish orange wig) to an assisted living facility, the uptight Philip finds himself unexpectedly joined by his bad apple, drug dealing sister Megan (Mickey Summer, Sting's daughter), who uses the trip as an excuse to transport a marijuana stash.

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Cue the intended hilarity, as granny, who isn't averse to getting stoned, turns out to have had her beloved dead dog stuffed and placed atop the television, and, in no time flat, she manages to run over her irascible neighbor (Rene Auberjonois, another '70s movie veteran who deserves better). When she gets wind of the true reason for her grandchildren's visit, she takes it on the lam, intending to bring her dead pooch to Seattle (don't ask why), and unwittingly carries the pot in her trunk.

The siblings set out in not-so-hot pursuit, leading to such misadventures as Megan baring her breasts for a sexist convenience store clerk after shoplifting and their not having the funds to pay for their chain restaurant breakfast. The latter at least provides a clue to their grandmother's whereabouts, as it turns out that both she and Megan share the supposedly adorable trait of requesting a side of mayonnaise with their pancakes.

It's all about as dreary and unfunny as it sounds, with the three leads, including the appealing Summer, working hard but failing to infuse the proceedings with the intended comic quirkiness. Suffice it to say that very little is happening in This is Happening.

Director/screenwriter: Ryan Jaffe
Cast: James Wolk, Mickey Summer, Cloris Leachman, Judd Nelson, Rene Auberjonois
Producers: Lisa Barrett McGuire, Scott Einziger, Ryan Jaffe, Matthew Weinberg
Executive producers: Sharla S. Bridgett, Stephen Nemeth, Shabana Shah
Director of photography: Ryan Meyer
Production designer: Jessica Mahnke
Editor: Dylan Firshein
Costume design: Daniella Cartun
Composer: Adam Crytal
Casting: Billy Hopkins

Not rated, 84 min.