Happy Endings: Review

Had I not been a Netflix subscriber, I probably would have never even heard about Happy Endings. It was suggested to me by their system that assesses which movies you’ve seen and liked and makes recommendations accordingly. Sometimes they’re off. Way off. But thankfully, this time they brought me a unique, fun and challenging film. It’s a shame that I hadn’t heard more about this film before.Happy Endings is directed by Don Roos and stars Lisa Kudrow, Maggie Gyllenhaal and, of all people, Tom Arnold, in a film that’s mostly about love and relationships, but presented in a totally non-standard and refreshing way. The title is sort of a ‘play on words’, as one of the plotlines of the movie centers around a ‘film within the film’ about a massage therapist and the “happy endings” that he provides. (And if you don’t know what a “happy ending” is, go look it up on Urban Dictionary.) The central plot deals with Lisa Kudrow’s complicated character, who sought to have an abortion early in life and ironically works at a clinic consulting women who plan to make the same decision. Having never gone ahead with the abortion, she finds herself meeting an amateur filmmaker who wants to reveal the identity of her long lost child — only if he can capture it on film. The other major plot surrounds Tom Arnold’s character, and his son, who is wrestling with his sexual identity.This film presents itself as a comedy, but honestly I found the film more interesting as a drama and didn’t really find myself laughing that much. It is aiming squarely for the Soho/yuppie crowd who can relate to these types of problems. Initially I found myself resenting the movie a bit. It comes off very pretentious. There are subtitles that share screen space with the action that give you some “intel” about the character. For example, a young woman comes on screen and the film might split and on the right half in white text with a black background you’d read, “Sarah works at this bookstore just to pay for her clothing addiction. She’ll only work here for a few more days before realizing that there aren’t any more clothes that she wants to buy this season.” You get the idea. Initially it’s somewhat annoying, but as the story progresses, it gives more insight into the characters than a single scene ever could. It’s a very efficient use of screen time, although I hope this doesn’t represent a trend. It probably will only work in this film.What made this experience most interesting for me was the honest way that it depicted the characters and the way that their feelings changed with regard to love and romance. You think you know these folks when you first see them. But as the film moves on, you see how fragile they are and how love exposes their characters. Lisa Kudrow delivers a particularly notable performance here. I was never big fan of Friends and looking at some of her film choices in the past didn’t give me a great deal of confidence that I’d see anything substantive here. But thankfully I was wrong. She has some tough scenes where she says more with her facial expressions and emotions than she does with her lines. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s role isn’t particularly challenging, but she plays it well. (It would be nice to see her range out a bit as well.) Tom Arnold surprised me as much as Kudrow did. Not only does he turn in a solid performance, but he does something even more remarkable. Everyone knows how he became famous. Most people regard him as ‘the guy who snuck into Hollywood on Roseanne’s coattails”. Initially when you meet his character, he seems like someone who fits that same selfish and shallow profile. But something interesting happens if you stick with the story.One unique and refreshing quality about the film is the fact that the whole “subtitle thing” allows the director to actually use the subtitles at the end of the film to reveal how each character lives out the duration of his/her life. It’s been done so many times before, but it seems more appropriate here since the lives of the characters don’t really play out at all how we might imagine had we been left with a screen of rolling credits.Happy Endings is a refreshing and challenging look at the complexity involved in relationships and love. Characters here are not at all predictable and if you’re a fan of romantic comedies (which really doesn’t fit as a description for this film) you’ll definitely dig this slightly askew approach to romantic comedies.


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