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Happy New Year-A Movie Review
First, a disclaimer. I’m pretty informal in my writing style, so this won’t be a professional type review, but it will be an honest and heartfelt one.
Last Friday, during the Milblog Conference in Washington, DC, I had the opportunity to watch the movie Happy New Year. I’m not the type of person to go do organized things. I was pretty resistant to seeing this, but Troy Steward of Keeping an Eye on Afghanistan kept talking about it and so I committed my time to go watch it.
The plot description below is lifted from the film’s facebook fan page.
Sgt. Cole Lewis, mentally and physically scarred by his time served in Iraq and Afghanistan, finds humanity, compassion and friendship in a group of similarly injured veterans in the psychiatric ward at a remote Veterans Hospital. Through humor and pathos, Lewis becomes a ray of hope in the ward, as the men find a way to combat their post-war grief. However, just as their luck starts to change, Lewis soon faces his fiercest battle yet.
That brief paragraph covers it all and yet barely touches the surface.
I have to be honest here, the film moved me beyond tears. But not where everyone could see. There were times during the screening when I had to just look away and listen (while using my peripheral vision to sort of track it all) so as to avoid crying in a room full of folks I don’t know. I have a personal issue with showing that kind of raw emotion in front of strangers. And it was difficult to do because of the way the film was put together.
Have you ever seen a decoupage table? This film is like that. The base, the bare wood, so to speak, would be the simple story of a wounded Iraq/Afghanistan Marine who ends up in a psyche ward because they don’t have a bed for him in the rehab wing. He has his own PTSD issues so maybe it’s serendipitous that he is shuffled off there.
The next layer is what gives it richness. With decoupage, its small images, scenes, pieces are fitted together and overall, a look, a feel is created. Happy New Year does this with the relationships and interactions between the characters. Parents and son, lovers and fighters, doctors and patients, strangers and friends. They’re all laid out, side by side, an edge overlapping another perhaps, and in the end, you are drawn into SGT Lewis’ life. It is his life and we see these people flit around him in a dance and I have to say that Michael Cuomo’s intensity and portrayal of SGT Lewis is amazing. The whole group was great. All of the interactions, joking, hating, loving, they were all conveyed with richness of emotion and authenticity.
The final part is the ending of the film. That’s like the sealer on a decoupage table. It keeps all those bits where they were carefully placed. It cements your final view and makes you feel like what you see isn’t really what you see. You have to go back in your mind and pick it apart. The experience is very much like coming up close to a decoupage table and realizing that all those well fitted figures and illustrations are separate and yet put together into something totally new.
One of the most charming things about a decoupage table is that sometimes, you can spot an imperfection and that is what clues you into the fact that it is what it is. This film is not a high budget, special effect laden journey. It is an emotional one. So much so that the scattered murmuring and movement of people around me disturbed me because I needed a few minutes to absorb the impact of it all.
The question and answer session after the screening was pretty good because we got a chance to get some technical questions answered, but also to discuss some of the overarching themes. Helplessness and choice, relationships, leadership, strength and weakness. It was good to hear other peoples’ thoughts on what they took from it.
I will admit that although I didn’t shed a tear in the screening room, it caught up with me later that night. After a few drinks and thoughts, I had my meltdown. Kids, alcohol is not our friend. Luckily, I was surrounded by a few loved ones and not-so-luckily, the director, K Lorrel Manning, and stars of the film. Maybe they were horrified or maybe they understood the impact their film had on me. I don’t know for sure because I didn’t ask them. In the end, I guess it doesn’t really matter because sometimes, we see something and we reflect on our personal lives and relationships and it all comes together in a perfect storm of reaction. That’s sort of what happened to me Friday night.
Happy New Year is not currently available in theaters but I hope it gets to that level some day. It is not a political statement, it is not a judgement of military things, it is a film that is pretty universal and wrapped in the story of one man who has demons to fight and those happen to be veteran related. Follow the film on Facebook to see if it will be screened near you. It is well worth your time to see it. I promise you.