In 10 Words or Less
Despite what happens, things have a way of working out
Loves: Black comedies
Likes: Johnny Galecki, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Don Roos, romcoms
Dislikes: Overly complicated storylines
Hates: The pain of human existence
Don Roos' first directing job, the off-beat, somewhat sprawling tale of interconnecting lives, The Opposite of Sex, introduced a new talent, one who was more than willing to subvert the standard structure of film to tell a story that doesn't fit the mold of the mainstream movie.
His next flick, Bounce, was a much more polished studio film, with marquee leads and a straightforward story. It didn't garner half the interest or respect of his previous outing, but as a film, it was a a solid job by Roos, done in by backlash against his overexposed stars.
So when it came time for him to give the writer/director gig another shot, he returned to his "roots," bringing together some of his first cast, the idea of interwoven stories and flawed but likeable characters, and tied it all together with another unusual narrative technique. This time, instead of in-your-face audio narration by one of the characters, split-screen text screens fill in the blanks of the characters' lives, in the past, present and future, and they do it well, with humor and pathos.
The main story centers around Mamie (Lisa Kudrow), an abortion clinic counselor with a secret past, and Nicky (Jesse Bradford), a wannabe film-school student who knows about Mamie's story, and is extorting her into helping him make a film that will get him into AFI. Along the way, her relationship with her masseuse (Bobby Cannavale, The Station Agent) and her issues with her stepbrother Charley (Steve Coogan, 24 Hour Party People) complicate matters for her, as she tries to figure out a way to trick Nicky into revealing what he knows.
That one story would normally be enough to fill the running time of a film, but Roos packs this movie with several more, including the relationship between a businessman (Tom Arnold) and his son (Jason Ritter) and the woman they are both having sex with (Maggie Gyllenhal) and a story involving misappropriated sperm and a lesbian couple and a gay couple. Each story gets more than enough screen time, and eventually, tangentially touches each other. But this is no Altman film, as the connections are limited in time and importance.
Surprisingly, for anyone who's seen Arnold in anything but True Lies, he's one of the best parts of this film. His limited role as Frank, a father who cares about his son, but is desperate for love, allows him to play the clueless part well, reversing course from his usual stupid roles. The difference might be slight, but it's important, as the move from stupid to clueless allows the audience to care about him.
If the audience didn't care, the performance of Gyllenhal as Jude, a golddigging singer who doesn't have any filters when it comes to dealing with others, would have come off as pointless. Jude takes advantage of Frank and his son Otis, using their needs against them. She's able to do that mainly because her needs are financial and material, not emotional, like her conquests. The part continues Gyllenhal's impressive young career, giving her the chance to also sing, which she does rather well. I don't see her cutting an album, but then, who thought Lindsey Lohan would?
Roos' control of the tangled web of storylines is quite good, managed by creating unique and well-defined characters and using the text screens to keep the audience informed at all times. Freed from the expectation of a studio film, Roos' visual direction tries some new tricks, and creates a film that looks as confused as the storyline risks becoming. Mirrors, off-kilter camera angles and an open attitude toward camera movement make this a different look at love and happiness, which for Happy Endings means the two might be mutually exclusive in most peoples' lives. But not always.
The title is an interesting one, considering the film's actual ending, of which there are many. If, at any point, you think the movie is over, you're probably wrong. There's too much invested in this cast of characters to leave anyone hanging in the end, and the film makes sure to satisfy all curiosity, even if it might feel a bit forced in some spots. However, most happy endings feel that way, as endings are rarely happy moments.
Happy Endings comes as a one-disc release in an insert-less standard keepcase. The disc features an animated anamorphic widescreen main menu, that has transitions into the various submenus. The first choices include play, select scenes, set-up languages and special features. The scene-selection menus have still previews and titles for each chapter, while the set-up options have English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 tracks, along with English and Spanish subtitles and English closed captioning.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer does a good job with the very wide image, offering solid blacks, good, rich colors that don't bleed or ring, and an excellent level of detail. There's nothing in here in terms of dirt or damage, and the overall image is sharp, if slightly red. There are some concerns with wash-outs and darkness, but these were part of the film.
There's not a large difference between the two audio tracks, considering this is a dialogue-driven film without any kinds of action blowouts. There's some enhancement of the music that pumps the songs up, but other than that, it's all about the crisp clear dialogue, and well-reproduced sound effects. Overall, the sound is very nice, but in no way a showcase track.
A feature-length, screen-specific audio commentary features Roos, Kudrow and the film's cinematographer, Clark Mathis. The threesome shares a few stories from the set, talks about the creative process and talks about the production. Roos is a relatively low-key guy, but he's got enthusiasm when it comes to talking about his work, and with three involved individuals behind the mics, the track rarely delivers dead air.
The "Making of" featurette runs over 11 minutes long, and feels like your usual studio EPK packages. On-set footage is mixed with film clips and interviews with all of the principal cast, as well as Roos, to talk about the film. There's nothing ground-breaking, but the piece is at least well-produced.
Just over 15 minutes of deleted scenes are also included, which can be watched in a group or separately. There's a rarity here, as there's a scene, between Charley and Otis, that actually could have worked, if the timing could be worked around. The rest are the usual flotsam and jetsam. Optional commentary with Roos, Mathis and Kudrow is essentially just set-up for the scenes, with thoughts scattered throughout. Optional commentary is also available on the gag reel (4:15) and the montage reel (2:38), but neither reveals much about the movie, and are really there just for odd enjoyment.
A handful of previews for other Lion's Gate films and TV shows are included, but not for Happy Endings.
The Bottom Line
It's not as funny as The Opposite of Sex, but it has more heart and a more evolved style. A talented cast, led by Kudrow, who Roos seems to direct perfectly, Arnold and Gyllenhal, makes the complicated story work, simply by acting as accessible flawed people in situations beyond their own abilities to cope. The DVD presents the movie with proper sound and image, and a decent spread of extras for anyone curious about the film's creation. Fans of Roos' previous work should absolutely check this movie out, as should anyone interested in the way people live their lives behind doors.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.