Happy Endings
Watching old episodes of “Friends” can be uncomfortable for Kudrow’s new co-stars.

Golden Mug

NOMINEE: Supporting Actor (Steve Coogan)

Theatrical Release Date: 07/15/2005
Director: Don Roos
Cast: Lisa Kudrow, Jesse Bradford, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Tom Arnold, Bobby Cannavale, Jason Ritter, Steve Coogan

While most of our attention the last few months has been glued to the big budget, Hollywood summer blockbusters, there have been a few good independent films and documentaries that I’m afraid have gotten lost in the shuffle. Already reviewed on this site have been worthy contenders “Murderball” and “Broken Flowers”. Those two films are probably the best films to be released in the last two months.

Writer/director Don Roos’ latest effort, “Happy Endings”, isn’t quite in the category of those two films, but it’s a welcome relief to watch a film with a little bit of intelligence amid all the vapid, listless drivel the googleplexes offer up this time of year.

The stories are fairly passé for independent film territory; there’s one about a woman who as a teenager gave up her baby for adoption, another about a gay couple who suspect their best friends lied about using their sperm for their baby, and another about a son who is keeping the fact that he is gay from his father. There are complications to each story, but that’s the gist. The details would take a long time to explain.

“Happy Endings” is yet another film that weaves together multiple stories that initially seem independent of one another. This technique is far from original, and is getting overused and abused, but when done decently can be a good plot device to help keep the film moving. In many films, primarily small independent ones, since the movie is dialogue based, there can be a tendency to lose momentum. Using multiple stories that interconnect can help keep the audiences’ mind churning. So while I hope to see less of this in the future, I wasn’t too bothered with how Roos used it in this particular film.

In any case, what I came away with from watching this film was the overall message that you have to live life in the present, forgive past sins, and do the best with what you have. Wow, super original, huh? While it’s cliché, the conviction in the performances of the cast keeps it from feeling too sappy.

Roos uses a noir-ish touch, by providing the audience with an unknown, omniscient narrator who pops up messages about the characters and their actions (both past and future). The pop ups are reminiscent of VH1’s Pop-Up Video, though rather than thought balloons, the text just scrolls onto the screen. At first, I thought I would really hate this, but it’s done fairly well and helped round out the details, sort of like filling in for parts of a book that couldn’t be translated to screen because it would take too long.

The film does have a bit of comedy to it, but it’s dark and sardonic mostly. Really, aside for certain obvious moments, if you hear people laughing, it’s because they’re too stupid to realize it’s not funny. Maybe I’m being too hard about that because I had two giggling sorority girls sitting behind me. I hate that.

Back to the film, I have to say that it hit home with me much more than I anticipated. I haven’t been too big of a fan of Roos’ previous efforts, especially 1998’s “The Opposite of Sex”, but he did a nice job with this one. And really, most surprising is how good Lisa Kudrow and Tom Arnold are. I’m not kidding, they are excellent in this film. And their roles are dramatic!

I usually can’t stand Kudrow and Arnold generally plays goofy screw-ups, but he really fleshed out his character’s faults and played it straight. Kudos to both. (Get it, kudos to Kudrow? … I know, I’m an idiot). Also, Steve Coogan’s performance was of high caliber. Many other actors would probably have lost the audience’s sympathy, but he played it just right and kept me on his side throughout his continual missteps.

And I must send some props to the wonderful Ms. Gyllenhaal for her singing in the film. At first, I wasn’t all that impressed, but by the end of the film, I found myself wishing I had her songs in the car on the drive home. Though I want to shoot the stylist for the film, her character looked like she had lost a bet or beaten cancer. (Sorry, Maggie).

So if you’re stuck for something to watch at the movies and you’ve already seen “Broken Flowers” and “Murderball”, check out “Happy Endings”. Be sure to share some of the Old Style you brought with a friend and enjoy the film, I’m giving the film a 3 out of 5. It almost got a 4, but the interconnected story plot device knocked it down a peg.

Oh, and for you quick-minded, gutter-dwelling individuals (like me), the title of the film is used in all aspects of its meaning.