Author’s Note – Review originally published on January 26, 2018, but then I got to interview the stars of A Million Happy Nows, Crystal Chappell and Jessica Leccia, so of course I had to update my review. 🙂
Starring – Crystal Chappell, Jessica Leccia, Hillary B. Smith, Robert Gant, Dan Gauthier, Dendrie Taylor
Directed by Albert Alarr
I had a sixth sense when this movie was sent to me recently that I should warn my wife that maybe she shouldn’t watch it. I was very familiar with the subject matter of A Million Happy Nows because I had been following the film for several years, waiting for it to finally be available in America, and that waiting paid off because I ended up being sent the movie to review (instead of having to rent it, so free movies are the best perks to being a movie critic) on top of it being a movie that was definitely worth the wait. But at the same time that I warned my wife that she probably shouldn’t watch the movie, I knew with the subject matter (she’s a scientist who has spent her whole career helping to fight cancer), she would probably not be able to resist the film entirely either. So when I hooked up my laptop to my TV, so I could watch the movie with a somewhat movie theater effect since I have a 55 inch Sony HDTV and a surround sound system (big surprise that movie buff me has a home theater setup), I figured she would probably catch the movie here and there as she went about the tasks she was trying to accomplish before the too little time that is always the weekend vanished. She had been sitting at the desk in our living room during most of the movie with her back turned to me, so I wasn’t sure if she was watching the movie or not, but I had a pretty strong feeling she was, and so I told myself that maybe I shouldn’t do what I always do with these types of films and cry my eyes out while watching it, that maybe I needed to have my emotions together so I could help her. So I kept my feelings in check (which is no easy task for someone who gets as emotional as I do) and I’m glad that I did because by the time A Million Happy Nows was over, my wife turned to me sobbing and said, “That was the saddest movie I ever saw.”
A Million Happy Nows is about soap actress Lainey Allen (played with perfection by real life soap queen, Crystal Chappell) who is at the top of her field. She has just won an Emmy for the character she’s been playing for 20 years, and is being asked to sign a new contract to keep on being the diva of soap land. But something is wrong. Lainey’s memory is becoming an issue. She is forgetting people she’s had 30 minute conversations with. She’s forgetting the lines for her character. She is becoming ever increasingly agitated and frustrated at every little thing. So, Lainey just up and quits her job of 20 years and moves with her partner, Eva (Jessica Leccia, who has this eerie way in the movie of reminding me a lot of my wife), to a house by the ocean and away from it all. But the memory issues are getting worse and finally, Eva and Lainey go see a physician. It is then they discover that Lainey has early onset Alzheimer’s thanks to a gene she inherited. So what do you do when you and your partner are just hitting middle age and thought you had years and years left together, but instead you only have a very limited amount of time? They decide to create a million happy memories for now, because later Lainey won’t have these memories to share with the love of her life, Eva.
The movie isn’t just about Lainey. It is also about the struggles and heartbreak that Eva goes through as she tries to care for Lainey. The silent pain and anguish Eva bears as she almost single-handedly cares for her partner. And that is where this movie hit so close to home for my wife. She has been a caretaker for me for several years, doing it basically single-handedly, as I fell apart. I, thankfully, don’t have Alzheimer’s, but I have another disease instead that attacks the brain, depression. Depression has haunted me most of my life. I have been able to pinpoint the exact age when it became a debilitating disease for me, just 11 years old. But I went around for years dealing with it all by myself. I didn’t grow up in a family that took people to see a therapist or a psychiatrist, so my depression was ignored at home, and by the time I became an adult, I could at least take my own self to seek help, but I soon discovered that the help available for depression was mediocre, at best. And maybe that was why I was so drawn to my wife when she first came into my world, she was suffering from severe depression that was drowning her more than mine. So, I was able to push my depression aside while I helped my wife get her life back on track, and then as soon as she did, I guess it was my turn to fall apart, and fall apart I did, in the most monumentous fashion. A misdiagnosis of bipolar during my first stay at a mental hospital and six years later, I had basically become a lab rat for psychiatrists, giving me every pill on the market, trying the same ones over and over and over again when they ran out of new pills, telling me that maybe this time this pill will work. But all I did was get sadder and sadder and sadder. And when the pills continued to not work, as I gained 60 pounds on my very thin frame because of the side-effects from hell these pills have that included short-term memory loss, insomnia, increased appetite (and they ain’t kidding, hence the 60 pound weight gain), water retention (or as Carrie Fisher once said of those awful drugs, “Think ocean, not pond”, hence, again, the 60 pound weight gain), suicidal tendencies (for the first time in my life, thanks to the medicine that was supposed to make me happy, not sad, I was actively suicidal), and on and on the list went, until finally the doctors decided to try some electric shock treatment on me. So all those pills that caused memory loss and 16 sessions of electric shock treatment that caused even more memory loss, by the time I said, “No more! I’m done with these barbaric treatments!” I came out of the deep, dark fog all these “treatments” put me in and I realized I had lost years of my memories. Years! So when I turned on A Million Happy Nows, I kind of already knew what the film was going to look like, because in a way, my wife and I had lived that life too, even though it was for a different disease of the brain, but in many ways, the results were the same. I was slowly losing my mind and my memories, and the only person in the world who was helping me deal with all of this and taking care of me, all the while trying to hold down a full-time job to keep a roof over our heads and food on our table, where she worked in a lab trying to help cancer patients survive their disease, was my wife. Because even though it wasn’t that long ago, being a lesbian couple meant we didn’t get taken seriously. There was no man in our relationship, and on top of that we were gay, so why take a couple of little gay girls seriously? So help and support became very hard to find, even from family and friends. My wife had no one to turn to when she needed to talk about the horrors she was witnessing when it came to my depression. She had no one to hold her when she had to leave me at mental hospital after mental hospital. She had no stories to read, no movies to turn on, so she could at least see something that looked like our life so maybe she could find some hope and help, even if it was only fictional.
There aren’t a lot of movies made about lesbians. There just aren’t. And a lot of the time, the ones that do get made, I usually don’t relate to the lesbians in the stories, so it is very rare when I turn on a movie and see my wife and me on my TV. And I knew that was going to be the case with A Million Happy Nows because Crystal Chappell and Jessica Leccia have played a lesbian couple for many years in several different projects. From Guiding Light (CBS are bastards for cancelling my favorite soap!), Venice The Series (LOVE that series!), The Grove and now with this film. These actors have a natural chemistry that just flows so easily when they are together, so it is very easy to see them as a couple, because they seem so natural as one. Their chemistry often reminds me of me and my wife; playful, forever flirtatious, silly, sweet, no effort required being together. We just be. So with a lesbian couple on my TV that acted a lot like us and were going through a very serious similar issue, it was hard not to see me and my wife, not see our life being played out on TV. But unlike Lainey when it comes to her Alzheimer’s, I can recover from depression, because I am slowly doing it. I am getting better, because I do have moments, minutes, hours, even an entire day sometimes now depression free. I am getting stronger, because I am fighting the demons in my head more and more every day. I am getting my memories back, because I have, slowly, but surely been able to locate these lost memories and am putting the horribly disorganized pieces that are my memories back together as a completed puzzle. But if I hadn’t kept fighting, if I had given up when my doctors basically did, our life would have looked just like Lainey and Eva’s, because eventually Alzheimer’s does render Lainey unable to continue to live with Eva. They have to make the hardest decision of their lives and put Lainey in a home where she can be well cared for and not just by Eva.
These two just got that natural chemistry thing. I wish Hollywood would take note of actors of the same sex who have this kind of chemistry and cast them as lovers, but they are still mostly blind to this.
During the final scene when Eva visits Lainey in the assisted living facility they were able to find after coming across some pretty crappy ones that reminded me way too much of the mental hospitals that I have stayed in (and why are people who have a disease of the brain treated so horribly and rendered to such deplorable conditions? because we can’t fend for ourselves?), I couldn’t help but see that our life could look like Eva and Lainey’s right now. If I hadn’t said, “No more!” I could have kept declining and declining until there was nothing left of me. I could have eventually ended up in an assisted living facility where my wife would have come to visit me. But thank goodness, my disease can be stopped. It can be reversed. I can recover from this and move on with a fully active and happy life. Lainey’s disease did not allow her this. Eva will never get a chance to watch her partner recover and move back home with her so they can carry on with their lives. So when the movie was over, before I even looked at my wife, I knew the movie had profoundly affected her, because she had just watched our life unfold and she finally was able to watch the story of a caretaker, who was so much like her in personality, patience, understanding, not ever wanting to give up; so I wasn’t surprised when she did finally turn to me after the movie was over, tears streaming down her face, asking me if she could have a hug. We talked for a long time after the movie was over about how that could have been us and it was us for many years, but thank God we survived it and are actually moving forward despite it. A Million Happy Nows ended up being much needed medicine for both of us, because sometimes the cure isn’t doctors and their pills, sometimes it’s art that cures our ills.
A Million Happy Nows is now out on VOD (that would be iTunes, Amazon, etc., etc., so many places to get movies, so easy to get lost trying to figure it all out). You can also check out the film’s website for more information.
Fun Fact: During the film, Eva gets hit on by guys a lot and the guys not getting that she’s with a woman is so true to real life. My wife gets hit on by men a lot too and they are so clueless most of the time that I’m her wife even though I’m standing right next to her holding her hand. Duh, guys! Sometimes women only want to be with another woman, that’s why we are called lesbians, not bisexual.
P.S.: Hillary B. Smith is also in the film and I always just love watching her. She just always has such a blast with acting, especially when she pops up in these projects with Crystal and Jessica. I keep having this strange thought that I want to have drinks with her someday, except I don’t drink, so I don’t know why I keep having this strange thought. Maybe Hillary can just drink while we hang out? Or maybe I just want to hang out with her because she seems like a lot of fun and I have a feeling she has a lot of great stories about being an actor. I also want to hang out with JWoww and Snooki and Lord knows they drink, so I’m not sure why I want to hang out with people while they’re drinking even though I don’t, but then again, I have been to a mental hospital or two, so it’s a good excuse sometimes for not making any sense. 😉
Update 2/2/2018: Well, a week after I published this review, I actually got to chat with both Crystal and Jessica, and here is the interview…
My wife was telling me that it’s both particularly hard to find films that portray the fine balancing act of two people loving each other and what it’s needed to maintain when one of them is no longer emotionally or mentally there consistently. The dynamic changes from one of equal partnership to one of a more dependent nature, almost parent/child-like in some ways, and it is very hard to strike a balance with who the person was and who the person is when that changes so rapidly from moment to moment, which was portrayed very well in the film. She was telling me that the desolation one feels with the knowledge that the partner might not come back, and it is hard to find artwork, be it literary or visual, that can portray this, never mind having it be gay, never mind lesbian. And it is helping us, personally, address and heal wounds scabbed over but not truly dealt with in some ways. We were both wondering since this film has helped us so much, have other people talked to you about how the film has helped them, because I imagine this is a film that is going to inspire help and hope.
Jessica – That was your wife saying that? She nailed it, huh?
Crystal – Yeah, there have been a lot of people at the festivals we’ve been in who have approached us and said that yeah this hits home with them. Usually a parent situation, but yeah, that dynamic in a relationship changes most definitely. And it is, I imagine, very isolating.
Me (Ali) – It was really hard on my wife, because being a gay couple, we were together even before there was marriage or civil union or domestic partnership. We just never got taken seriously as a couple, so she was pretty much on her own (when taking care of me), family and friends just pretty much went, “Whatever, that’s just those gay girls. What are they doing?”
Crystal – You raise a very interesting point, Ali, because that’s what we wanted to really capture with this film. It’s interesting to hear you say that because diseases don’t discriminate and neither does support, regardless if you are gay or straight or black or white or male or female, we all suffer or have the ability to suffer through very similar disorders and diseases, and support is universal. That should always be there.
You both portrayed a very difficult, emotional situation with honesty, maturity, and integrity, so thank you for that as it very much mirrored my wife’s and mine situation. What inspirations did you draw on to be that emotionally vulnerable and to deal with topics that partners or spouses hope that they never have to deal with?
Jessica – Well for me, I think not knowing a lot about Alzheimer’s as a disease, besides what I think people commonly know, I discovered that along the way with reading the scripts. I didn’t know a ton about people that have Alzheimer’s at an earlier age, for the early onset situation is something I had no idea even happened. The thought of living with and loving someone with dementia when you think your whole life is ahead of you is a brand new thing for me and I think you just go into it. It kind of unfolded for me as it did in life, I didn’t know a lot about it, you never expected anything like that to ever happen, so it is the same for both of us, for myself and the character. It can be an unexpected, horrific thing and then what happens during the course of the movie is just a learning curve for both of them. Very distinctly two sides of the story being told.
This is for you, Jessica, my wife felt like she was watching herself when she was watching your character. As she told me, “There’s nothing as emotionally wrenching as watching the person you love die by inches.” She wanted to know if you had any real life experiences or inspirational stories that helped you portray both the intense pain and the inner strength to be the support your partner needed.
Jessica – I don’t have a personal story. I think the whole point of it is like you (Crystal) said, it is a universal thing, so whether it be in your case, a case of depression, or a disease like Alzheimer’s, or whether it be just be any other sort of life curve ball that can happen to two people that love each other. That’s the hope you can see it in any story.
Crystal – And really how important the present is. When everything seems so mundane.
Did you have gay/lesbian friends or family members you talked to in order to get inspiration, especially the bit at the bar with the asshole hitting on your girl because that happens to us all the time. Guys are always hitting on my wife and I’m always like, “Hello, notice me? The wife standing right next to the hot woman you’re checking out. Yeah, the one holding her hand.”
Crystal – Well, it was in the script and the executive producer/writer is gay, so I imagine that’s happened to her. That would be my guess. That was all there (in the script), but I can imagine that happens quite a bit. That’s an interesting dynamic, I don’t quite get.
My wife was telling me that one of the hardest things dealing with a person suffering memory loss and emotional disturbances is the chaotic nature of their lives, where one minute they are in one mood and the next they are turned upside down. We both agree that you captured that very well, way too well, in the film. Did you have trouble with the anger in the scenes where you are both displaying frustration and borderline rage, because I certainly had trouble watching them, because like I said, way too real for me.
Crystal – You know, the whole subject matter was difficult, it’s not something that even as an actor you want to perform, it’s the idea of delving into those dark places is hard. I’m okay with anger, it was where it was coming from and what was causing it that was troubling. You kind of had to remove that element.
Jessica – You did it really well, Crystal. Can I just say I think that one of the best parts/scenes like that was Crystal having to go from zero to twenty was that I think in the script and in her performance was always a piece of Lainey that kept her humor intact and we did go from having a good laugh to having a good cry and I think that is very important in storytelling and I think that is what Crystal does really, really well.
You two have played lovers in other projects who have fought, but it’s different when one of you is losing your mental health, it’s not equal anymore. Did you find the fight scenes in the film to be harder to play than say your fight scenes on Venice where your characters were more on equal footing?
Crystal – That’s a good question.
Jessica – Yeah, I think those scenes are hard anyway, anywhere, anyhow, in any scenario, because you have to put a lot away. I love Crystal, I think she is a phenomenal human being. Anytime we have to be in a scene where there is any hurt feelings or anger or sadness, you have to put that away.
Crystal – There is just really a big trust that I think that Jessica and I have that is very unusual. That’s kind of been there from the beginning, so it makes it a little easier to get into those scenes.
I have been in and out of mental healthcare facilities, and my wife has been to these lovely places to visit me, and we were particularly struck in the film with the honesty of the stupidity and deplorable conditions some of these places provide when Lainey and Eva are looking for a place for Lainey to eventually live, because patients with diseases of the brain are often treated as idiots or children or criminals, the images we saw in the film were very representative of real life and helped bring to life how…well, basically fucked up our healthcare system is. Do you know if this scene where you two are trying to find a decent place for Lainey to live is based on any real experiences?
Crystal – [The screenwriter for A Million Happy Nows] her grandmother has Alzheimer’s and I don’t know her story, I’m happy to introduce you guys, if you want to talk to her. But, yeah, I have no idea.
What has drawn you or inspired you to be a part of so many lesbian stories in general, Crystal? Was it because you and Jessica played a couple on Guiding Light?
Crystal – A big part of it was from Guiding Light, I’m sure Jessica can talk about this as well, when that storyline took off there was a lot of reaching out to us and really just people sharing stories that were really touching. And a part of their stories was so nice to have somebody onscreen who looks like me. So we just sort of kept moving it forward.
How has the environment for LGBT characters changed over the last 10-15 years?
Jessica – Maybe I’m just more aware, and looking for it, but I feel like it’s definitely different now. Crystal and I have kids, and I know that my daughter is growing up watching things that I didn’t get to see when I was younger, so there’s a difference there. I mean she thinks nothing of same sex couples, our friends that are men being married and about to have a baby. She’s seen it in her cartoons even. She watches this show on Nickelodeon and the main character has a best friend that lives next door and has two adorable dads. She doesn’t think anything of it, so just in children’s programs, I’m seeing a difference.
My wife, who loves caramel apples, but thanks to an allergy to apples, she can’t have them anymore, so Crystal, she was living vicariously through you and the scene with the caramel apple, so she would like to know if you really like caramel apples? And was it a real apple? And was it good?
Crystal – It was very real and I am not a big caramel apple fan. So I’m sorry to disappoint her, but it’s, you know, super sour and super sugary.
Jessica – Please tell your wife that I think they are delicious. Getting all the caramel in your teeth is something I’m willing to deal with. Better than candy apples.
Hey Jessica, my wife agrees, caramel apples are way better than candy apples. 🙂