Movie Review - This is Happening

This movie is reminiscent of two recent films about a young adult taking his or her sassy or difficult grandmother on a road trip where the young adult ends up learning a lesson. The grandmother in question is Estelle who is like Estelle Getty from The Golden Girls but here is played by Oscar-winner and Emmy-winner Cloris Leachman. Written and directed by Ryan Jaffe, the tone and the execution are somewhere between Tammy (2014) with Susan Sarandon and Grandma (2015) with Lily Tomlin, except Jaffe doesn't give Leachman as much to do as Sarandon and Tomlin, probably due to her and her character's age.

The opening scene with Leachman and her narration, as well as the use of the song "Older" by They Might Be Giants, leads one to believe that her and her age will be more of a central focus, but it's not. That opening scene is merely a salvo that indicates what Jaffe's sense or style of humor is. Regardless of that humor, the opening scene proves that Leachman works better when she's bouncing off people or literally bouncing things off people.

Leachman's best scene is an argument Estelle has with Cal Plotz, played by Rene Auberjonois (Benson and Boston Legal). They're two elderly people bickering and battling about how much they hate or annoy each other. They probably don't in actuality but they argue like they do because they, like the audience, enjoy the inherent comedy. It's funny to see them fight.

It's unfortunate that Jaffe doesn't have more scenes like that. A huge chunk of the movie strands Leachman by herself with only a stuffed dog with which to converse. Leachman sells it and understandably Jaffe strands her for crucial plot reasons, but it lowers the potential of what the movie could have been and what Leachman could have brought.

That being said, what Jaffe loses, he makes up for in other ways, namely James Wolk who plays Estelle's grandson, Philip Davis, a former software engineer. When Estelle takes off with her stuffed dog, Philip and his sister, Megan Davis, played by Mickey Sumner, must chase after her. Hilarity ensues and thus is the movie.

However, Jaffe sets the table for Wolk and his character early. Philip tries to have morning sex with his girlfriend Ashley and she pushes him from kissing and intercourse to him giving her oral sex, despite some hygiene issues on her end, and, the look on Wolk's face is absolutely priceless. From that point forward, every facial expression, every move and indeed every word that Wolk utters is comedy gold.

Literally, every scene Wolk has is a thousand times better because he's in it. Like Leachman, he's most funny bouncing off co-stars, particularly Sumner. Both of whom take sibling rivalry to a new level, but Jaffe never makes it mean-spirited. The rivalry or bickering really is always played for laughs, and it always works. It might take some time to warm to it, but they do win you over.

Wolk is especially winsome. His actions and reactions are just great at every turn. His character arc from hen-pecked chicken to confident rooster is fun to watch as well.

Wolk proved his comedic chops in ensemble TV shows like Happy Endings and that he could hold his own opposite powerhouses like Robin Williams in the short-lived The Crazy Ones. However, he demonstrates here that he can do comedy that isn't based on how handsome or ridiculously adorable he is.

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains sexual situations, drug use and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 24 mins.

Available January 5, 2016 on INDEMNAND (Comcast, Time Warner, Brighthouse, Cox), Verizon, Dish, Vubiquity, iTunes, iTunes Canada, Amazon Instant, Google Play and Vudu

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