HAPPY ENDINGS (2005)
Starring Lisa Kudrow, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Steve Coogan, Jesse Bradford, Bobby Cannavale, Jason Ritter, Tom Arnold, David Sutcliffe, Laura Dern, Sarah Clarke, Hallee Hirsh, Eric Jungmann, Kim Morgan Greene, Rayne Marcus, Caker Folley, Amanda Foreman, Johnny Galecki and Ray Liotta.
Screenplay by Don Roos.
Directed by Don Roos.
Distributed by Lion’s Gate Films. 128 minutes. Rated R.
The title of Happy Endings does not refer to everyone living a good life at the end of the film — though the movie does spend an extraordinarily long time updating us on the mostly positive futures that await our stars. Instead, the “happy endings” that the film is ironically referencing is a much more base, less fairytale oriented practice; it is a slang reference to a massage brought to an illegal (but satisfying) climax.
I wish I could say that the movie has as satisfying a climax, but I really can’t. Happy Endings is a rather puzzling movie — in many ways, it is very funny, dramatic and smart, but it can’t help but sabotage itself.
Happy Endings is an ensemble piece. Characters bounce off of each other in interesting and unexpected ways. However, as you watch the film, you quickly realize that these characters are almost all unlikable ciphers. You can’t help but wonder watching these people — why do they do the things they do? Just about everyone makes what seems like exactly the wrong decision about every major crossroad of their lives. You just want to pull each and every one of them aside and slap them upside the head.
This problem is heightened because of a series of cutesy, supposedly funny title cards which are supposed to comment on the characters and the action, but are mostly annoyingly precious. (Example: “Since then he has turned gay. Who hasn’t?”)
It is too bad, because the acting here is terrific. Lisa Kudrow is shockingly subtle as Mamie, a morose abortion counselor who is blindsided by a young filmmaker (Jesse Bradford) who wants to film a documentary about reuniting her with her long-ago adopted son. Mamie has no interest in taking part in the project, but somehow agrees to help the kid make a film because he says otherwise she owes him $20,000. (No, I didn’t quite figure out how they made that connection either.) So Mamie serves him up Javier, her illegal immigrant boyfriend who is a masseuse. The couple decide to pretend that he has sex with his clients to make him seem interesting.
In the meantime, Mamie’s gay step-brother Charley (Steve Coogan) and his partner Gil (David Sutcliffe) become obsessed with the idea that the son of their lesbian best friends (Laura Dern and Sarah Clarke) was actually born of Gil’s sperm, though the two women denied it. Again, this obsession and certainty make no real sense, nor does the extreme retaliation that the lesbians take on the couple when they find out that Charley and Gil want proof that the baby is not theirs.
One of Charley’s employees is Otis (Jason Ritter of Joan of Arcadia) a closeted gay rich kid who brings home a free-spirited singer named Jude (Maggie Gyllenhaal) as a beard to convince his dad (a surprisingly good Tom Arnold) that he is straight. The father-son relationship takes a beating when Jude starts sleeping with dad.
All these characters intersect in major and minor ways, bouncing in and out of each others’ lives and then going on their miserable ways. The dialogue by Don Roos (The Opposite of Sex, Bounce) is mostly clever, particularly when coming out of the mouths of the talented cast. But the movie makes little sense. In the end, most audiences will realize that most of these characters reach their epiphanies by dumb luck, and we really don’t care whether these depressed and depressing people live happily ever after or not. (7/05)
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.Posted: August 6, 2005.