“A Million Happy Nows” is Dramatic Gold

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If there is ever a lesbian version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Crystal Chappell should be among the first five recipients of a Star. There are very few actresses who have dedicated their careers to the queer community the way she and her frequent co-star Jessica Leccia (she gets a Star, too, of course) have, and “A Million Happy Nows” is just another in a long stream of little gifts they’ve been giving to the lesbian community for the past eight years.

Chappell and Leccia might never have come to the attention of the lesbian community had not “Guiding Light” brought us Otalia, the portmanteau for Olivia Spencer and Natalia Rivera, played by Chappell and Leccia, respectively. Contrary to longstanding expectations that soap audiences wouldn’t like queer pairings, Otalia was a highly popular couple that, at the end of “Guiding Light,” had moved in to live as a family, one of the few lesbian happy endings on TV.

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The outpouring of support that Chapell received from Otalia fans, and her dissatisfaction with the limitations placed upon showing affection as Otalia, prompted her to take an unparalleled proactive role in creating and playing lesbian or bisexual female characters that she and Leccia continue to this day. Over the last nine years, Chapell has leveraged her soap opera connections (she’s been on soap operas for the last 27 years) and experience to bring more queerness to the soap opera genre.

Just after “Guiding Light” was cancelled in 2009, Chappell co-created, executive produced, and starred in the web soap opera “Venice: The Series,” in which she played lesbian interior designer Gina and Leccia played her ex-girlfriend Ani. (In May 2016, Chapell launched an Indiegogo campaign to fund a fifth and final season of “Venice: The Series,” which finished filming this month…and may even lead to a sixth season!)

In 2012, Chappell joined the soap opera “The Bold and the Beautiful” as lesbian Danielle Spencer, and in 2013 Chappell produced and starred opposite Leccia in a pilot for a new web soap called “The Grove,” in which the two played a married couple. And in 2014, Chappell executive produced the web soap “Beacon Hill,” which again had queer female protagonists.

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In “A Million Happy Nows,” which Chappell produced, Chappell plays Lainey Allen, a soap opera star forced to retire when she keeps forgetting lines. She and her partner Eva Morales, played by Leccia, move to California to live in a beautiful house overlooking the ocean, but when Lainey keeps making weird memory mistakes, Eva makes her see a neurologist. Blood tests reveal she’s got the gene for early onset Alzheimer’s. The movie follows how they cope with Lainey’s quick deterioration, and yes, it’s just as heavy as one would expect from a movie about Alzheimer’s. Yes, I cried. For about the entire last 15 minutes of the movie. And you will too, but that’s not a spoiler since no movie about Alzheimer’s has a happy ending.

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Me during this movie.

Whereas soap operas are famous for their dramatic pauses and over-exaggerated emotions, here Chappell and Leccia can be natural. They’re comfortable with each other after almost a decade of playing each other’s love interest on screen, and action is mostly limited to their house, showing the domestic consequences of the disease. The real strength of the movie is the acting and the plot. Watching someone experience her life slipping away and her loved ones being equally powerless to stop it is absolutely emotionally devastating (there’s a reason Julianne Moore won an Oscar for playing a woman with Alzheimer’s in “Still Alice.”).

Chappell does a magnificent job showing the range of emotions that accompany the loss of control and identity that accompanies Alzheimer’s, and Leccia plays the supportive yet struggling partner well. It’s a movie that left me thinking about it days later, which is the hallmark of a good movie. For example, I had previously thought that my greatest fears in life were big spiders and being outdoors in pitch blackness, but apparently it’s the loss of my mental faculties or that of my partner. Suddenly a field of spiders on a moonless night doesn’t seem so bad.

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In no uncertain terms, this is a fantastic movie, and I wish that mainstream Hollywood had a better mechanism for identifying and promoting LGBT indie films like this because I believe it has much wider appeal. This is a movie that pulls everyone’s heartstrings, not just lesbian and queer women, and the fact that it doesn’t have Moore or another A List Hollywood actress du jour shouldn’t be held against it (the perpetual indie lament). But since this isn’t coming to a theater near you anytime soon (however it is making the film festival rounds) hopefully it will be picked up by a streaming service where it might find that wider audience.

Speaking of which, this is exactly the kind of film that the LGBT community should be supporting. Historically, we’ve had some pretty bad (sorry, but let’s be honest) indie LBGT films, but things have really started to turn around in the last few years. If we want to see more lesbian-themed movies and passion projects like “I Can’t Think Straight” or “The World Unseen,” by Shamim Sharif, or “A Million Happy Nows,” we have to support the women making them.

Frankly, that also means that we have to go buy the movies, not just stream them, because money is what gets these things made. Money buys more good movies, and shows there’s an audience for good movies to be made. That’s a plea for any movie, TV show, web series, etc: if you like it, find some way to contribute financially. Liking it on Facebook, Tweeting, etc., are all good, but to quote Jerry Maguire, “Show me the money.” Because I, like you, want more awesome lesbian-themed movies to watch.

A Million Happy Nows will be screened at Toronto’s  Inside Out LGBT Film Festival.

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