16 July 2009 | Movie_Muse_Reviews
Too many unique vignettes causes overload on the "Happy Endings"
Vignettes are a tricky business. To make a film with more than three main stories to follow that interconnect and are unified in some significant way is a challenge. "Love, Actually" is one of the only recent films to successfully pull this off, using Christmas and love as a unifying factor. Don Roos' "Happy Endings" uses ... love? happiness? sexuality? infatuation? It's not clear, and making all the vignettes cross-connect with each other doesn't satisfy what we look for in these movies. Each vignette should essentially tell the same message in a different way. "Happy Endings" has several original concepts, but the connection is obscure and hard to draw.
Roos ("The Opposite of Sex") essentially tells three stories: First follows Mamie (Lisa Kudrow) and the documentary she helps aspiring filmmaker Nicky (Jesse Bradford) make about her masseuse/lover Javier (Bobby Cannavale) so that she can find out information Nicky has of the son she gave away at birth when she was 18. The second follows the father of that child, Charlie (Steve Coogan), who is now gay and convinced that his partner (David Sutcliffe) is the biological father of their lesbian friends' son, whom he donated sperm to once and it supposedly didn't work. Last is Jude (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a free spirit who meets Otis (Jason Ritter), a young man that works in Charlie's restaurant who is hiding his homosexuality from his rich father (Tom Arnold). Jude promises Otis that she won't say anything if he doesn't spoil her plan to become involved with his father for the money.
That mostly covers the labyrinthian complexity of "Happy Endings," which despite it's courage to choose such unique scenarios , doesn't seem to ever make clear sense. It's all quite interesting, as this is relationship drama we've never seen before, but there are a lot of emotions flying around and motivations that seem to lack sources. It probably all made sense in Roos' head, but it doesn't convert.
The acting talent isn't necessarily lacking either. This is the best performance I've ever seen Kudrow give in a film -- she reminds me of another Annette Bening. Gyllenhaal is also one of the more complex (in the intriguing way) characters and she draws the widest variety of emotions from the audience as she crosses a fine line between sincerity and deception. Although the characters are interesting, however, we mostly feel just apathy because the snippets we get of them are more puzzling than revealing.
Another unique technique that Roos employs is adding subtitles that give away little pieces of information about the characters as we watch them, whether it's what happens in the future to them or a secret they have. It's supposed to add a unique twist to what's being shown on screen, but it's hard enough to make sense of what's going on on screen as it is. It's not a bad idea, but it just saturates this film even more.
Watching vignettes interconnect is always entertaining and interesting, but "Happy Endings" is overstuffed and it creates a disconnect between the characters and the audience, which no amount of character interconnectedness can solve.