Happy Endings

Happy Endings

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The 2005 Sundance Film Festival opened with this "comedy... sort of," exploring the nature of today's less conventional relationships.

The lynchpin of the plot is Maimie (Lisa Kudrow, returning to her roots - her brunette roots, that is). Relationships aren't her strong point, but then things didn't start out well. She fell pregnant by her stepbrother Charley (Steve Coogan) as a teenager and gave her son away for adoption. By the time we catch up with her 15 years later, she's an abortion counsellor in a relationship with Mexican masseuse Javier (Bobby Cannavale) and Charley, we are informed by one of the frequent title cards that punctuate the movie, "is now gay. Who isn't?" She's still cut up about the baby, though, so when grungy student Nicky (Jesse Bradford) says he knows who her son is and will tell her if she stars in his documentary, how can she resist, even if it is a decision that will have drastic consequences?

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Charley, meanwhile, is now shacked up with Gil (David Sutcliffe), who may or may not be the father of their lesbian best pals Pam (Laura Dern) and Diane's (Sarah Clarke) baby and is admired from afar by his employee, sometime drummer and gay wannabe Otis (Jason Ritter).

Sounding complicated? It is. And you mustn't forget the subplot involving Otis's dad Frank (Tom Arnold) and sexually precocious twentysomething Jude (Maggie Gyllenhaal). It's complex, but that seems to be writer/director Don Roos's point. Life in modern American is a trial, dudes. Convention has gone out the window and anything goes. Relationships are odd and not just forged on love. Necessity and circumstance have a large role to play, too. But is this film telling us anything we didn't know already? Probably not. The cast is strong and some of the lines - particularly the title cards, which pop up to offer back stories - are fun, but there is a lack of heart to the movie.

Kudrow's character is well fleshed out and her motivations solid, largely thanks to her great acting - she's been wasted in sitcomland all these years - and Gyllenhaal, too, is convincing as a mixed-up kid, who thinks sex is the answer to everything (who would have thought she has a great singing voice as well?). Many of the other characters, however, don't fare so well. Coogan and Sutcliffe's relationship feels phony; there's not a scrap of intimacy. Cannavale, brilliant in The Station Agent, who should be given better parts than this, seems miscast as the Mexican comedy turn. The joke relies too much on his ethnicity, which won't sit well with a UK audience.

Perhaps the biggest flaw is the movie's running time (two hours and counting). Short and snappy seem to be words long forgotten by filmmakers, not only in Hollywood, but on the independent circuit, too. Roos, as a writer, has a flair for comedy, but he could do with someone else on board as director to rein him in. Also, he falls into the primetime US TV trap of using pointless expositional scenes set to music in a bid to do little more than fill airtime, or cover for a lack of scripting? By cutting back on these obvious plays at plucking our heartstrings, he would have struck a truer tune.

Reviewed on: 22 Jan 2005
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The complication of mixed gender relationships in a modern American "comedy... sort of".
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Sundance 2005

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