The oxymoron of "Happy Tears," a title from a signature Roy Lichtenstein painting, can refer to the comfort of living with the dysfunction one has known all one's life. In Mitchell Lichtenstein's funny and weird fictional tale of two sisters, an LA socialite Jayne (Parker Posey) and her hippyish sister Laura (Demi Moore), coping with their father's Alzheimer's, Jayne wears a pair of $2800 boots as she wipes the shit off her father's rump. That's the least of his senescence, which also involves taking up with a drug-addled floozy (Ellen Barkin) with big tits, wild hair, and bad teeth.
The father, played by the scene chewing Rip Torn who in real life recently made headlines brandishing a gun in a bank. The character was based on a father in the filmmaker's extended family: a bit where he has a buried treasure of coins in the backyard comes from real life, said Lichtenstein in a recent interview.
When asked how he worked with Torn, Lichtenstein said, "He says he has more working credits than any other actor. He really understood the character so it was really about making sure he was happy and comfortable. He is a great actor and a great comedian." As to the scandal: "No one was hurt. I was pretty much only happy about it when I heard for that reason. Good publicity."
Cindy Kleine's documentary, "Phyllis and Harold," illustrates that she is no stranger to "happy tears" herself. At first her parents seem to come out of central casting for an upscale Long Island couple of a certain age. Kleine said she realized she had a movie seeing the treasure trove of slides her father Harold had made of their family. Then at 18 she discovered her mother's secret life, a boyfriend in the early years of the marriage, who reappears later for a late-life tryst.
Much of this documentation fascinates in the way the unremarkable can resonate, reminiscent of the documentaries Alan Berliner made of his parents. But here is a coincidence: During much of their marriage, Phyllis and Harold traveled. After his death, Phyllis said appreciatively, surprising as she kvetched a lot, "he showed me the world." Turned out, Kleine said in an interview, Alan Berliner's mother was their travel agent. That world was indeed small!