Synopsis: A diverse group of mostly middle-class Americans experience a number of emotional ups and downs in their flawed yet realistic lives, each loosely connected to each other through a restaurant. A witty look at love, family and life. Happy Endings weaves multiple stories to create a witty look at love, family and the sheer unpredictability of life itself.
Happy Endings 7.0
eyelights: the intertitles. the general plot.
eyesores: the plot contrivances. the performances.
‘Happy Endings’ is a three-story dramedy about a woman trying to track down the child she gave up for adoption when she was a teenager, a closeted gay man who is preyed upon by a gold-digging woman who uses him to get to his father, and a gay couple who suspect that their lesbian friends have been lying to them about the paternity of their child.
In the first story, we follow Marnie, an abortion clinic worker who is prompted into trying to find her child after Nicky Munitz, a wannabe young documentarian tells her that he knows her grown-up son. In exchange for this information, he asks her to help him make a film. She convinces him to use Javier, her massage therapist/lover, as a subject for his documentary, so that she can get closer to him and find the information she needs.
The second story revolves around Charley, Marnie’s stepbrother, who becomes obsessed with the notion that he and his partner Gil’s best friends have lied to them for years about the paternity of their son. Having donated sperm to them in the past, he is convinced that his partner is the father, even though their friends told them that it hadn’t worked. Charley then contrives to get the truth from them, despite Gil’s many protests.
The final story is about Otis, a closeted gay drummer who works at Marnie and Charley’s restaurant, and who ends up sleeping with an opportunistic young woman who latches on to him, knowingly providing him with cover so that his wealthy father wouldn’t find out about his sexual orientation. The problem is that, convenient as it might seem to him at first, she holds that secret over him and eventually decides to make moves on his father.
The three stories overlap and interwine, with some characters crossing over from time to time, providing us with connecting threads and a layer of continuity which would otherwise be missing. ‘Happy Endings’ is also peppered with a series of intertitles providing us with commentary and background on the characters and situations that we encounter. I really enjoyed this touch because it made the film lighter and it somewhat gave us the impression that it was being narrated.
Except that, for all of writer-director Don Roos’ efforts, I just didn’t buy into key elements of the picture:
- I didn’t believe the extremes to which Marnie went to buy herself time; she spent a lot of money on Nicky when she could simply have put that down on a private investigator. Ultimately, there must have been some other thing that compelled her to do stick around, but what was it? Her motivation wasn’t clear to me, and motivation is everything.
- I can understand obsession to a certain degree, but the ridiculous lengths that Charley goes to in trying to get his best friends to tell him what he wants to hear (because all the clues that trigger him insubstantive) was patently absurd, hardly credible. And all this brought he and Gil to a negative place that was really quite pathetic, really. For what? I just don’t get it, I really don’t.
- The last story I get more because Otis is living in fear. Except that it bewildered me that he would let that prevent him from telling his dad that Jude was planning to prey on him; seems to me that there’s no personal triumph in keeping such a secret at all costs, even his father’s welfare. And so what if she had told his dad that he’s gay? If he denied it, wouldn’t the dad believe the son over a stranger?
It didn’t help that I didn’t find the cast convincing enough – at least not enough to sell the material and its contrivances:
- Lisa Kudrow was decent as Marnie, but I wasn’t won over by her at all; she didn’t own the part, and I’m sure many other actresses could have done equally well.
- Bobby Cannavale, as Javier, was better here than in ‘Blue Jasmine‘, but only barely – he still seemed like a cartoon character.
- Jesse Bradford annoyed the heck out of me as Nicky; almost everything he did felt fake or insincere.
- Steve Coogan was alright as Charley, but I found slightly too dialled up for my taste.
- David Sutcliffe was decent, solid, as Gil.
- Laura Dern was pretty good as Pam, Charley and Gil’s friend, but she seemed pained somewhat. Anyway, this was a minor part.
- Sarah Clarke was pretty good as Diane, Pam’s partner. But it’s also a minor part.
- Jason Ritter was okay as Otis, but nothing more.
- Tom Arnold, as Otis’ dad, probably delivers his best performance ever – but that’s not saying much given that he’s not a very good actors. Almost anyone could have done better.
- Maggie Gyllenhaal was terrific as Jude, but her character was such a miserable scum-sucking bloodsucker that I couldn’t see through the loathsomeness enough to appreciate the performance.
All this to say that, while ‘Happy Endings’ is a decent enough picture, it’s really not that great either. In fact, I found it sort of long, for what it is. Had I been fully immersed in the tales and lives of these characters, I might have been more able to appreciate it and found it breezier. But, as it stands, I was counting down the time to 90 minutes, which is what I thought the runtime was.
It’s not: it’s a much longer film. So my happy ending felt very much out of reach that evening.
Post scriptum: I didn’t know this, but a “happy ending” is apparently a term used for getting sexual release (presumably a handjob, possibly oral sex) from a masseuse at the end of session. I know it happens, it’s not anything new, it’s just not a term I was aware of. Anyway, I honestly don’t know how this ties into the movie, aside from the fact that Marnie’s lover is a massage therapist. Maybe the connection was too sutble for me, or maybe it was just a catchy, even titilating, title and the filmmakers picked it for that reason. Who knows.
Date of viewing: September 13, 2013