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Clippings for Margarita Happy Hour


Margarita Happy Hour Variety Review
January 31, 2001 -- "Support perfs are terrific down the line, with Ramos and Fessenden shading in potentially one-note jerk b.f. and doomed party doll roles. Barbara Sicuranza is a standout among the "Happy Hour" clique; babies and toddlers deployed throughout seem so at ease at least some must be the thesps' own offspring."

They were not in fact our children. None of the actresses in the film have any, (as of this writing) but it was nice to be called "movie mom" by the little dreams who played my daughter (beautiful twins Tippy and Theadora).

Now available on Video and DVD, check it out
Available on VHS and DVD August 20, 2002 from Wellspring Video.

purchase at Barnes and

Complete review:

Margarita Happy Hour

A Passport Pictures and Susie Q Prods. presentation of a Little Z production. Produced by Michael Ellenbogen and Susan Leber. Directed, written by Ilya Chaiken.

Zelda - Eleanor Hutchins
Max - Larry Fessenden
Natali - Holly Ramos
Little Z - Jonah Leland
Graziella - Barbara Sicuranza
Raquel - Amanda Vogel
Sofia - Macha Ross
Marie - Kristin Dispaltro
Lester - Will Keenan
Pornographer - Michael Buscemi


New York, New York: It's a helluva town, particularly to raise a child in. Especially with no money, a classic layabout "artist" boyfriend, and several Brooklyn flatmates still neck-deep in a Hedonism First, Responsibility Later lifestyle. While this premise suggests a hipster-cute cross between "Desperately Seeking Susan" and "Baby Boom," writer-director Ilya Chaiken's debut feature emerges a surprisingly in-depth, wistful look at outgrowing a youth-only subculture. While "arthouse chick flick" is not exactly the most salable flavor this month, "Margarita Happy Hour" could parlay fest gigs and favorable word-of-mouth into deserved sleeper status, given careful handling by an enterprising distribber.

Initial scenes set up an all-too-familiar milieu of studiedly eccentric downtown slacker types (albeit ensconced in more-affordable Brooklyn). Central protag Zelda (Eleanor Hutchins) is an illustrator and party girl whose career -- and partying days -- crashed into the brick-wall bundle of joy called Little Z (Jonah Leland).

She cohabits with the now-2-year-old's father, underemployed writer Max (Larry Fessenden), along with five other pals in a single walkup. But Max, while fond of both g.f. and tot, contributes little to alleviate the exhausting parental routine.

"It was my decision to keep the baby, so it's my responsibility," Zelda rationalizes to the circle of female friends -- all fellow punkettes-turned-single-mothers -- she meets with regularly for the title's al fresco cafe ritual. Still, lack of spousal support, social isolation (happy hour aside) and nostalgia for her carefree pre-baby days are slowly wearing Zelda down to the embittered bone.

Adding more stress is recent arrival of Natali (Holly Ramos), Zelda's erstwhile best friend and carousing partner. Just out of a heroin rehab program, Natali is staying here to get her proverbial act together. But she has no fresh sense of purpose to replace the old sex-drugs-rock'n'roll one, and Zelda's mothering obligations leave her little energy to provide
counsel. Worse, desperately-seeking-distraction Natali is vulnerable enough to attract the wrong ally in Max, who himself feels henpecked and neglected.

Deceptively low-key scenario builds a palpable sense of imminent crisis as small incidents snowball toward some big decisions. Last reel springs a tragic departure and another, more hopeful one. Both are somewhat predictable, but by that point "Margarita Happy Hour's" canny observation, understatement and lived-in performances have stealthily drawn the viewer in deep.

At first glance no more sympathetic or interesting than the next model-thin, fashionably dour downtown babe, Hutchins lets Zelda win us over on her own terms. An intelligent, ambivalent woman too frazzled to bother being "likable," her ill-appreciated survival under impossible circumstances is at once sardonic and dignified.

Support perfs are terrific down the line, with Ramos and Fessenden shading in potentially one-note jerk b.f. and doomed party doll roles. Barbara Sicuranza is a standout among the "Happy Hour" clique; babies and toddlers deployed throughout seem so at ease at least some must be the thesps' own offspring.

Result is unsentimental yet alert to genuine parent-child devotion. Likewise, "underground" cultural trappings feel just right, regarded with both over-that amusement and admission that, yes, drugs, sex & what-not are pastimes worth missing when they're gone.

Chaikin deftly orchestrates two plot-organic larger set-pieces: First a performance-art party where Zelda, having nailed Max to baby-sitting for once, revisits her excesses of yore; another a spontaneous home shindig that triggers climactic fallout.

Flashbacks limning Zelda and Max's greener days provide necessary backstory in concise strokes.

Shot in three weeks, location-shot prod turns budgetary constraints to atmospheric advantage; lensing and design contribs are aptly gritty-colorful. Pacing rhythms are natural without going slack. Tracks by Lunachicks, Fur and other club bands provide occasional, welcome jolts of energy.

Camera (color), Gordon Chou; editors, Chaikin, Meg Reticker; production designer, Bridget Evans; music, Max Lichtenstein; supervising sound editor (Dolby), Stephen Altobello; associate producer, Kate Drennen; casting, David Leslie. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (American Spectrum), Jan. 22, 2001. Running time: 98 MIN.

Stage Press Weekly

Margarita Time
April 07, 2002 -- ..."Barbara Sicuranza is
easy, breezy, utterly natural, very sexy
and very sexually frustrated. I
could buy that she was unable to find a man willing to take on a lovely lady
with a child, but this electric man's woman not being able to get laid for
over a year was a stretch"

Elenor sent me this quote from an article in this week's Stage Press Weekly...I should note that the author is referring to my character Graziella in Margarita Happy Hour.
"Easy, breezy and utterly natural???...sounds like douche commercial copy...electric man's woman...I don't even know where to start with that...Umm...thanks, I think.

New York Times Review By DAVE KEHR

Rowdy Single Mothers Line Up at the Bar
March 22, 2002 -- the rock 'n' roll moms their arms tattooed, their midriffs bare, their long legs encased in tight, black leather pants gather most afternoons at the tables in front of an anonymous bar in a bohemian quarter of Brooklyn. With their children bouncing in their laps or snoozing in their strollers, the women once aspiring artists, actresses or musicians rowdily debate the state of their lives over brightly tinted margaritas, only $2 each between 4 and 6.

Ilya Chaiken's "Margarita Happy Hour," which opens today at Cinema Village (22 East 12th Street, Greenwich Village), is an independent feature with sure sociological instincts. Here is one substratum of New York society that has not previously been documented the single mothers, whose decision not to terminate unplanned pregnancies have left them facing the unexpected end of their lives of impulse and irresponsibility.

Several of Ms. Chaiken's characters find themselves alone, abandoned by the men who fathered their children and disappeared back into the bar and party scene. But Zelda (Eleanor Hutchins), who becomes the film's central figure, enjoys the mixed blessing of having her man, Max (Larry Fessenden), right on hand.

A failed novelist with a drinking problem "He thinks he's Jack Kerouac," sneers one of Zelda's friends Max has remained with Zelda and their tiny daughter (whom they call Little Z), though less out of a sense of responsibility than sheer passivity. As played by Mr. Fessenden (the gifted director of "Habit" and the recent "Wendigo"), Max is an overgrown child himself, given to excessive oral gratification and poor impulse control.

Much of "Margarita Happy Hour," which Ms. Chaiken wrote and directed, is devoted to group-dialogue scenes, in which the women (including Barbara Sicuranza, Amanda Vogel, Macha Ross and Kristin Dispaltro) boozily debate their Medicaid problems and the limited romantic possibilities available to women with young children.

A whiff of plot surfaces when Max finds himself attracted to Natali (Holly Ramos), Zelda's lover in her younger days and a recovering junkie who has moved in with Max and Zelda to recuperate.

But Ms. Chaiken isn't much interested in melodramatic plot developments. Her talent lies in an evocative, accurate observation of a distinctive milieu and in the lively, convincing dialogue she creates for her characters. Zelda repeatedly complains that she is living in a circle, with no line of development in her life. It is a sense the film captures wonderfully, if depressingly, well, at least up until an escapist climax that seems as emotionally necessary as it is dramatically arbitrary.

Directed by Ilya Chaiken. Not rated, 98 minutes

Margarita Happy Hour Review by Roy Edroso
March 08, 2002 -- "I especially liked Holly Ramos as one of those hippie junkies to whom heroin grants eternal girlishness, and Barbara Sicuranza as a hard case whose various hurts are only amplified by her toughness".

Complete review:

BoHo Peep Show

Margarita Happy Hour, a film by Ilya Chaikin. Produced by Michael Ellenbogen and Susan Leber. Starring Eleanor Hutchins and Larry Fessenden. Watching the new independent feature Margarita Happy Hour (opens March 22) I was moved to recall the historical process by which the East Village became a film signifier called "The East Village." In the late 1970s I used to attend screenings in downtown lofts and storefronts, where all us cheerlessly cheerful punks drank beer out of brown paper bags and watched grainy, badly-dubbed 8 mm epics by Amos Poe, Nick Zedd, Vivienne Dick, et al., in which graffiti was deified, bohemianism reified, and Lydia Lunch sodomized. I remember with particular fondness one ambitiously minimalist opus called Rome '78, featuring local punks dressed up in Roman togas. It was like Spartacus written, directed, and performed by heroin addicts with Fine Arts degrees. Actors wandered listlessly against white backdrops, occasionally summoning the strength to wanly project some attitude. "We have no art," declaimed one hollow-eyed wraith meant to be, I guess, a follower of Diogenes. "All our art is terrible--look at this." He held up a Pottery Barn vase, then dropped it to the floor before eventually mumbling his way through another seemingly endless stretch of silver nitrate. Unless these people actually were perpetually high, this alternative cinema--we didn't have "indie" film yet, kids--was not intended to fetch development money from the mainstream. It was purposefully static, cheesy, and unpleasant. That was most of its charm. In fact, it was all of its charm. And most charmlessly charming of all was the absence of any moral conclusion to lift us out of the comforting malaise of these sordid entertainments. "No resolution" was the cinematic equivalent of the Sex Pistols' "no future." Then at the close of the era, Susan Seidelman pushed her slick little fleur du mal, Smithereens, through the Hollywood concrete. NYU film school was as close to the punk cinema scene as Seidelman actually got, but she captured the East Village aroma--with most of the original, acrid Galouises-and-garbage traces filtered out--and sprayed it all over her movie; and the smell managed reach all the way out to the hinterlands. Smithereens had scenes of punk posturing, sort of like the original punk films had, but choreographed and punchlined so straight audiences could get some yuks out of them. One might say that Smithereens did for punks what Craig Russell's Outrageous! did for cross-dressers: USDA-approved them for suburban consumption. What really sold Smithereens, though, was its coming-of-age angle. It showed a callow punk princess trying to make it big in a downtown scene. Try as she might, she couldn't do it--because the scene was fake, and the more she tried to fit into it, the more of a fake she became. Smithereens thus assumed a moral dimension--one tailor-made for the punk-averse destination audience. At its denouement, Seidelman showed the unmoored heroine drifting toward West Side Highway trick-turning. The trick really being turned, of course, was on the viewers. They were dangled over the squalid pit of wild youth, then pulled back at the close and told that they had done well to observe this tragedy from the safe distance provided by the filmmakers. The franchise progressed quickly after that. Seidelman hit a jackpot with Desperately Seeking Susan, largely thanks to Madonna, who for a few crucial years thereafter was America's acceptable face of la vie boheme, gasket-bracelet and leather-gantlet division. Then came Turk 182 and Breakin' and all those ridiculous movies that established the bohemian signifier for years to come: wild, dangerous, fun to look at, and not for any normal, self-respecting person. The advent of indie film altered the formula only slightly. As more alternative communities sprang up in the image of the East Village, glorious bohemian waste became less site-specific. For example, one could rot away, for a brief running-time, at Steve Buscemi's Tree's Lounge, located in a leafily desolate prole suburb, but still get the same yuks from colorful wastrels (now considerably older and mangier than in previous editions, as befit the demographic trends of film slackerdom) and, at the end of the day, still shake one's head sadly at the horrible things that would befall any poor chump actually mired in such soullessly bleak surroundings. Ilya Chaiken's Margarita Happy Hour, the most recent bohemian coming-of-age film, is in many ways a great advance on the formula. It's set in New York City, but mostly in those neighborhoods where aging slackers might really be found: Brooklyn's south Slope and the frayed edges of Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens. The squalor feels right: large apartments that still look shitty even after the dishes are washed, and are never big enough to accommodate all the people that wind up crashing in them. The slackers themselves are also well-observed, funny and poignant. The central couple, Zelda (Eleanor Hutchins, who looks like Courtney Cox without any money) and Max (Larry Fessenden--the new Steve Buscemi! You read it here ninety-first!), squabble and fuck with the authentic, languid desperation of couples who've been stuck together too long to quit each other easily. The most obvious impediment to that course of action is also refreshingly realistic: Max and Zelda have a baby. In fact, most of Zelda's female friends have babies, and the Happy Hour of the title is the recurring fun-drink-fueled bitchfest at a sidewalk cafe where the pierced 'n' tattooed mommies cheerfully unload their discontent while cradling or stroller-rocking their young 'uns. Freedom is still as big a deal for them as it is for younger bohos, but their kids mitigate it--not because they're physically in the way (everyone still drinks and parties), but because they demand a deeper commitment than these adults are used to making. "We've lost the freedom to just die," Zelda says with some longing. And so on and, eventually, so what. Relationships go through mild changes, and shit happens; but most of the film is reiterations of how fucked up everything is: random violence; drugs; an "installation" (hey, I know that club, says the urban filmgoer) presided over by a guy in a sparkly bow tie and evil leer; and mutterings, more or less poetic, about how there's got to be something better than this. Chaiken's put a lot of gorgeously bleak detail into this thing, Gordon Chou's photography makes even the sunlight seem unpromising, and the actors have both the pallor and the swagger of marginal living down cold. (I especially liked Holly Ramos as one of those hippie junkies to whom heroin grants eternal girlishness, and Barbara Sicuranza as a hard case whose various hurts are only amplified by her toughness.) But there's not a lot happening until we get to the moral of the story--and to a veteran of this sort of entertainment, the moral is a pro-forma, uplifting downer: Zelda, ass-kicked by the death of a friend, takes her baby and gets the hell out, in a van with a bunch of her buddies, to some alternative scene I couldn't get quite straight (overlapping dialogue, murky sound). The girls even grab a bunch of brightly-colored balloons to trail out the shotgun window as they speed through the Holland Tunnel what? What's changed? Zelda is quit of her wastrel boyfriend, and of the city (which, here as in all such entertainments, represents to our heroine nothing except scenic locales and access to deadly drugs), but is that all there is to it? What does getting out mean to someone who hasn't expressed a positive thought (apart from gnomicisms like "I'm tired of circles, I want a straight line") through the entire movie? One might say that Zelda's escape is in fact the filmmaker's: Yes, I know all about this rootless existence, but hey, I'm no loser. I made a feature-length motion picture! But perhaps the real escape is the audience's--in the opposite direction. Perhaps viewers will line up for a chance to peep once more into the entertainingly sordid demimonde, and leave the theatre comforted that nothing so ugly has touched their lives; or if it has--if they, too, bear tattoos, children by fucked-up consorts, scars physical or emotional--that they have escaped to--what? To an ashram? To a better-paying job? To a comfortable suburban home equipped with a lavish entertainment center that plays over and over the gnarly tunes of their (and/or their children's) unhappy youth, and pumps in via cable channels similar narratives of unhealthy urbanites (Sara Jessica Parker slick or Steve Buscemi rough) over which they can endlessly cluck their tongues, and from which they can gloatingly retreat, satisfied with their choices until a nameless longing again overtakes them and drives them to hear and view again the dirty stories that tell how lucky they are not to be what they cannot look away from? "No future" was perhaps the right idea. Because it isn't the future if it keeps happening over and over again.

March 2002

MMH big screen happening in March
January 31, 2002 -- Check out Margarita Happy Hour at Cinema Village opening on March 22nd 2002

schedule with blurb from

Margarita Happy Hour in January
December 19, 2001 -- Sundance Channel Screenings

Friday 1.04.2002 9:00PM
Wednesday 1.09.2002 7:00PM
Thursday 1.10.2002 2:00AM
Tuesday 1.15.2002 8:35AM
Tuesday 1.15.2002 9:30PM
Saturday 1.19.2002 6:00PM
Sunday 1.27.2002 3:05PM
Sunday 1.27.2002 11:00PM
Thursday 1.31.2002 4:30PM

>> Sundance Channel's Buys "Margarita"

(indieWIRE/11.15.01) -- Ilya Chaiken's "Margarita Happy Hour," which debuted at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, has been acquired by Sundance Channel. The movie will debut on the network early next year as part of the "Inside: Sundance Film Festival" program.

Describing the movie in a prepared statement, Chaiken said, "The characters represent the artist/slacker contingent of New York City, which revolves so much around clinging to the delusions of carefree youth. Suddenly they find themselves in new and uncomfortable skins. I wanted to portray a 'mom' character in a different light than we're used to seeing, as a young woman undergoing physical, practical and spiritual transformation."

The film was written and directed by Chaiken, produced by Michael Ellenbogen and Susan Leber, and it features Eleanor Hutchins, Larry Fessenden (Habit), Holly Ramos, Barbara Sicuranza, Amanda Vogel, Macha Ross and Kristin Dispaltro.

[Eugene Hernandez]


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