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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that My Happy Family is a subtitled drama about a multigenerational family living together in Tbilisi, a city in the Eastern European country of Georgia. Such family situations aren't unusual there. At the age of 52, Manana, wife-daughter-mother, at last confronts the impossibility of her situation: overbearing parent, ineffectual husband, young adult children who have not fully "launched." Her decision to leave and live on her own throws the family into turmoil. Mature themes (i.e., infidelity, divorce and separation, controlling relationships) are explored. Expect a few curses ("bastard," "s--t"), some drinking and smoking, and conversations about sex. Messages about standing up for oneself, trying to live a meaningful life, and changing unhealthy family dynamics are integrated into the story. This movie is directed at grown-up audiences, not kids.
What's the story?
There's a big, loud, messy family at the heart of MY HAPPY FAMILY, and not necessarily a happy one. With three generations living together in close quarters, everyone's personality, quirks, and emotions impact the others. Manana (Ia Shugliashvili), a high school teacher, is sandwiched between her parents and her children, with her husband passively along for the ride. Manana's needs and desires don't mean much. When her birthday comes around and she asks that it be a quiet time, she's ignored; assorted relatives and friends fill the already burgeoning house. After that event, and a poignant moment alone with one of her students, Manana is moved to take drastic action. When she announces that she's leaving the house and has found an apartment of her own, the rest of the family is stunned. When Manana refuses to discuss her decision, they become upset. When she moves out, they want her back. Is it because they need her? Or is it because they have lost control? As Manana navigates her new life, with time and space for herself, she quickly learns, if she didn't already know, that her role as counsel and caregiver hasn't ended. And she faces events and revelations that profoundly test her determination.
Is it any good?
A remarkable performance from Ia Shugliashvili, an inventive take on a familiar premise, and the filmmakers' choice to let their camera hold fast to moments that matter make this movie memorable. It's a solid production all around. There's an artistry to the film's execution, especially performance, music, writing, cinematography. Both characters and the settings feel vibrant and authentic.
However, perhaps the filmmakers made a misstep at the film's end. Though they must believe that the closing scene, though enigmatic, will be satisfying, at least to a degree, it isn't. Despite that minor blemish, all that has gone before makes My Happy Family stirring fare for mature audiences. And it's good to see such a moving, relatable story set in a country not often seen in films that reach America.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the household in My Happy Family. How does this family compare to families you know? How do movies help us understand and relate to people from other cultures and places?
Unlike many films, this one spends time with its characters, especially Manana, during quiet, alone moments. How does this technique help the viewer engage with the people on-screen? For example, how were your perceptions of Manana heightened during the scenes in which she was alone in her new apartment?
What was the purpose of the very first scene? How did it set up its audience for what they were about to see? When do you think Manana made her important decision?
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