The sum of Josh Radnor's happythankyoumoreplease centers on a mantra of sorts: the more people extol and cultivate the good that slips into their lives, the more positivity they'll collect as a consequence of gratitude. Huddling together a cluster of twenty-something friends struggling with a generational shift, this New York-bound ensemble indie touches on the idea of cyclical contentment, and lack thereof, showing how torn individuals cope with love, vanity, caring for children and artistic refutation. Radnor's dramedy carries the best of intentions while showing courtesy to the anxiety that accompanies shifting between life's stages, where the prospects of moving on -- both literally and figuratively -- hinder those who struggle with scaling the wall of maturation. Alas, the way it opts to coast along the surface restrains its ably-hewn motivations into an non-disruptive, albeit pleasant half-charmer.
Sam -- whom Radnor himself plays -- is a borderline-neurotic writer caught in a static career transition, living in a better-than-expected apartment where he tills intellectual ground at his kitchen table. On the way to a follow-up meeting with a publisher, he catches a glimpse at a boy, Rasheen (Michael Algieri), unintentionally left on the train, dropping Sam into obligation territory that leads an unpredicted (and foolhardy) bond -- at least, the story would appreciate it if we'd assume that it's unpredicted. Sam's commitment issues receive an added challenge when he begins pursuing Mississippi (Kate Mara), a hopeful cabaret singer who pays her bills as a waitress in a local bar. Other threads lead to Sam's friends; his closest being Annie (Malin Akerman), an energetic cubicle dweller with severe alopecia (hair loss) and horrendous taste in men, and his hourly-waged artist cousin, Mary (Zoe Kazan), thrown into a tough decision when her boyfriend considers moving from their hometown to Los Angeles for work.
From its tone to an ostentatious title, happythankyoumoreplease heaves in the fumes of quaint indie style and exhales an expected lo-fi exploration of patchy relationships and walled-off love, achieving a candid meter about the dialogue that's hinged on modest performances from the eclectic cast. While Woody Allen comes to mind in the Manhattan setting and the intimate conversations, it's tough not to imagine Zach Braff's work with Garden State, only in part because How I Met Your Mother's Radnor penned, helmed, and performed in it; both feature a stilted creative confronting the wall that partitions him from an age-appropriate view of his position in life, while a charming yet equally-troubled girl assists in his "awakening". There are evident differences -- the off-and-on unease between Sam and Mississippi complicates more than enriches -- yet there's no mistaking the similarity in Radnor's aims, a collection of perspectives on conquering the cynicism-charged doldrums and lowering emotional defenses through taking chances.
While the characters sufficiently offer their forlorn points of view -- Sam's awkward fear of commitment, Annie's image issues, whether a couple can look at a new out-of-state job as a blessing or a call to break up -- Radnor lays the groundwork for a cathartic underbelly focused on those bemused by love. The script, however, inclines itself towards cleat-cut responses to emotional baggage, overlooking the complexity needed to lend weight to issues with detachment and avoidance in lieu of something easier to swallow. Sam's relationship with Rasheen takes center stage since, really, there's not a better way to bulldoze a man's issues with commitment than dropping an impressionable boy in his lap, while Annie dodges the advances from a daft yet attentive office mate (Toby Hale), the antithesis -- surprise, surprise -- of the sorts of men she normally falls for. Part of the point comes in those "under our nose" discoveries, sure, yet it all feels too on-the-nose to impart a degree of profoundness here, which becomes a tricky endeavor once some heavier, leap-of-faith dramatic spikes occur.
Smaller moments in happythankyoumoreplease discover glimmers of magnetism, though, even when cut down in contrast with what they could've embodied. Most of it hinges, again, on a capable cast juggling Radnor's alert dialogue; Malin Akerman delivers bracing effervescence as Annie, whether she's indulging a harmful ex-boyfriend over an evening drink or scrambling out of a potentially good thing with the second Sam (colloquially called Sam #2), while a conversation between a pair of splintering lovers about moving away from home mingles in context with the film's overlying coming-of-age focus. It makes it frustrating to see tangible performances, achieved in tandem with Josh Radnor's respectable freshman effort, slouch into a contrived extension of the story's sincere roots, even if it maintains a likable poise while Sam's growth is sketched out in broad strokes -- and when the comfortable characters discover their own grasps on the title's mantra, which, by the way, does receive a lucid (and touching) explanation.
Video and Audio:
There's a pleasing warmth to the cinematography in happythankyoumoreplease that leans towards an invitingly low-key indie aesthetic, as captured through Seamus Tierney's lens. Anchor Bay's transfer gets the job done well enough in the 2.35:1 widescreen-enhanced transfer, though it carries a digital flatness that hampers some of the facial textures and some pronounced shimmering can be spotted (in clothing and a few other densely-woven textures). The clarity of black levels also depends on the location and set-up, too; some sequences in Sam's apartment offer rich black levels and pleasing contrast, while other scenes have wavering green blacks with a dense amount of grain present. Mostly the color palette pops well from the somewhat dark image, but a few moments -- other crisp close-ups, a few darker scenes at a bar, and some exterior shots around the city -- look especially crisp and fairly impressive by standard-definition means.
A nondescript Dolby Digital 5.1 track captures the brisk dialogue with enough strength, while the musical cues mostly stay to the front end of the design. Very little activity passes to the rear channels, aside form the occasional note or ambient effect in a bar, but the range of dialogue sounds balanced enough -- if a bit compressed and strained. English SDH and Spanish subtitles accompany the English language track.
Commentary with Josh Radnor and Producer Jesse Hara:
This track with Radnor and Hara fits a pretty tight rhythm of discussing shooting locations and devolving into reflective chatter about working alongside each scene. The great thing is that the pair offer some slick insights into each point; sure they fawn over their actors quite a bit, but they also discuss restrictions with photographing police stations, how they wanted the film to look as a particular Van Morrison record sounds, and discussion about the impetus that a Western advertisement generates to feel anxiety. It's a cool track with only a handful of silent stretches.
Anchor Bay have also pieced together a featurette called happythankyoumoremusicplease (6:41, 16x9), centering on music composer Jaymay, along with including a set of Deleted Scenes (8:56, 16x9) and a Theatrical Trailer (2:33, 16x9).
There are enjoyable, faintly pensive elements present in Sundance Film Fest winner happythankyoumoreplease, TV Star Josh Radnor's writing and directorial premiere. The vibrant tone centers on a group of New Yorkers making heads or tails of their unwillingness to embrace others, confronting the cynical attitudes that have keep them at-bay. Moments will generate empathy in the stream of coming-of-age comprehension, driven by a fine outing from the cast, yet its reserved depth and easygoing follow-through at its close makes it feel one-dimensional. Yet that one dimension's an appealingly-toned one, making this one a very suitable Rental.