A Million Happy Nows
By: Taylor Gates
Sometimes two actors just click—there’s something about them that makes them a perfect onscreen match, a special chemistry that transcends scripts and settings. It’s not often that a pair meshes so well together, but on the rare occasion it does happen, people can’t get enough. Take, for example, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Or Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. Or Crystal Chappell and Jessica Leccia, just to name a few. Unless you’re a soap opera fan, you might not recognize those last two names yet, but if A Million Happy Nows gets even half the recognition it deserves, that’s soon going to change.
Bold, outspoken actress Lainey (Chappell) is at a crossroads in her career. Not only is she sick of her character being neglected in favor of newer, younger talent she’s also finding it increasingly difficult to memorize her lines. After a particularly rough day at work, she decides to leave the show she’s starred on for twenty years. She and her sweet, optimistic publicist/partner Eva (Leccia) trade in sets for serenity by relocating to a beach house on the Central California coast.
The move brings out both the best and worst parts of their relationship. Although they get to spend more time together than ever, lounging next to sandy shores and talking over breakfast, Lainey quickly falls into a funk. At first, Eva attributes her mildly depressive to having too much free time on her hands, but when Lainey begins forgetting an unusual amount of information Eva insists they pay a visit to the doctor.
There Lainey’s biggest fear is confirmed and Eva is blindsided—Lainey has Early Onset Alzheimer’s. They both struggle with the diagnosis in their own ways. Lainey resists and gets angry, destroying rooms and going on frequent jogs. She’d rather pretend everything is normal and attempt to ignore the inevitable. Eva, on the other hand, wants to constantly talk about their feelings. Her outlet is documenting their adventures, trying to make the most of every single moment. Sometimes these different approaches work in harmony, creating balance; other times, they end in disaster.
It’s a bumpy road indeed, filled with both soaring peaks and plummeting valleys. When the two fight, it’s both painful and beautiful. While it hurts to see the two yelling at each other, it’s so clearly out of love and the desire to protect one another. And when the two open up and allow themselves to be vulnerable—exchanging their deepest fears and greatest joys—it’s so exposed and generous that the viewer feels like a fly on the wall during a very private moment.
Chappell and Leccia are far from strangers. In fact, they’ve been acting opposite each other for close to a decade now and it shows. In a post-screening Q&A, Chappell (who also serves as a producer on the film) shared that she personally asked Leccia to star in the film. It’s like they say “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The two have acquired a huge fan base since making up the beloved ship “Otalia” on CBS’ “Guiding Light” before essentially reprising their roles in semi-spinoff web show “Venice: The Series.” Even if you’ve never seen the two together in other projects, after watching A Million Happy Nows it’s not hard to see why they would be popular.
Chappell and Leccia’s history and friendship offscreen undoubtedly translates to their characters. Lainey and Eva’s connection and rapport is natural and easy. Their marriage feels authentic and seasoned—passionate but sturdy—and the two fall into a seamless, comfortable rhythm that could only emerge by playing a couple fairly consistently since 2009.
That the movie truly has two leads gives it a slightly different, fresher vibe than the majority of other similar movies on the market. The fact that this is Eva’s movie just as much as it is Lainey’s rings truer and offers a perspective seen far less often. It doesn’t gloss over how Lainey’s diagnosis affects Eva, highlighting her struggle to reconcile that the woman she fell in love with will eventually grow weaker and forget her. In addition to the shock and emotional heavy lifting that comes with dealing with Lainey’s symptoms, being a caretaker is not physically or mentally easy. Yes, Eva is a calm, compassionate woman, but that doesn’t mean she’s without faults. The movie doesn’t shy away from showing her messier, less proud moments—the times where it all gets too much, when her patience runs out and she snaps. But even then, not once do we doubt that Eva will always be there for Lainey. The fact that she never gives any indication of running is a true testament to her strength. She’s gentle, but she’s fierce and her heart is large and made of steel.
The movie is definitely a tearjerker, but miraculously every sob is earned. You’ll walk out of the theater crying, but you won’t feel manipulated. You’ll feel like you’ve been on a genuinely moving journey. It’ll crush you, but it’ll lift you back up, too.
As one might anticipate, the movie is filled to the brim with drama and romance. However, more unexpectedly, the movie also overflows with comedy and joy. For every intense medical scene, there’s a moment where the women eat a caramel apple in a hammock. For every screaming match in a bar bathroom, there’s a minute of getting high and hanging out on a trampoline. For every tear, there’s a laugh.
Just like its weeps are earned its chuckles are, too. Although so many of the characters could easily fall into one-dimensional, cliché caricatures, none of them do. Lainey’s boss Val (Hillary B. Smith) could easily have been a cold, uncaring producer; waitress Julie (Dendrie Taylor) could have remained nothing more than a stereotypical starstuck fan—the butt of a joke. Instead, Val and Julie form strong, healthy friendships with Lainey and Eva and act as confidants and a support system for the couple.
That Lainey and Eva both happen to be women is hardly ever mentioned let alone made out to be a big issue, but it’s because of this—not in spite of—that makes it such a revolutionary LGBTQA+ film. Their sexuality is not a central theme and therefore their partnership is more normalized—they’re fully fleshed out people with qualities and issues much more interesting pressing than the fact they happen to be lesbians.
Admittedly, Marisa Calin’s screenplay does take a moment to find its groove. It’s not until a scene full of quick-witted banter after Lainey and Eva’s first big fight when it feels like the story really starts to take off. Their relationship and sense of humor is what grounds the film so when they finally do find their voices the movie begins to feel on-track, pace-wise, giving it a chance to soar.
The script is linear and concise, so the fact that it’s shot in an unassuming way helps keep it feeling consistent. While there doesn’t seem to be a ton of risk involved in Albert Alarr’s directing choices, the straight-forward presentation actually works in the movie’s favor. Alarr plays it pretty safe, not employing a ton of experimental visual techniques or pushing many boundaries, but it’s okay that the aesthetic value takes a backseat to the characters. It still feels true and real and doesn’t detract from what matters—Lainey and Eva.
It wouldn’t surprise me if A Million Happy Nows ended up on Lifetime and joined the ranks of their critically-acclaimed films like Sigourney Weaver’s Prayers for Bobby or the Minnie Driver drama Return to Zero.
Like all the best movies, A Million Happy Nows provokes both laughter and tears without manipulating its viewer for either. It’s a film that touches and moves you, sticking with its audience long after the credits roll.
Final grade: A-