Monday, February 23, 2015

Happy Endings (2005 film)

Originally Written and Posted at on 7/5/05 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.

Written and directed by Don Roos, Happy Endings is a multi-layered film that revolves around many characters as they not only cope with changes in their lives but also the search for happiness while they deal with themselves. The film explores many different storylines that features characters who are connected with one another as they all involve themselves into very different situations. Starring Lisa Kudrow, Steve Coogan, Laura Dern, Tom Arnold, Bobby Cannavale, Jesse Bradford, David Sutcliffe, Sarah Clarke, Jason Ritter, and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Happy Endings is an offbeat yet whimsical film from Don Roos.

Mamie (Lisa Kudrow) lives a nice, carefree life with her masseuse lover Javier (Bobby Cannavale) while her British stepbrother Charley (Steve Coogan) runs a restaurant he inherited from their late parents. Charley is leading a family life with his boyfriend Gil (David Sutcliffe) who enjoys being an uncle to the son of his oldest friend Pam (Laura Dern) and her lover Diane (Sarah Clarke). Working in Charley's restaurant is Otis (Jason Ritter) who has a crush on Charley but denies that he is gay while he meets up with a mysterious woman named Jude (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who he invites to sing for his band who rehearses in the garage of his father Frank (Tom Arnold). One day, Mamie receives a note about the whereabouts of her long-lost son from a friend of her son in Nicky (Jesse Bradford) who is an aspiring filmmaker. Mamie isn't sure as she and Javier wants to know what's going on as they break into Nicky's apartment only to be caught as Mamie makes a deal to make a documentary about Javier’s work as a masseuse. Charley meanwhile, tries to wonder if Gil is the father of Pam’s son as he tries to investigate the whole thing. Jude joins Otis' band as she wonders about his sexuality as she confronts him sexually while he continues to deny that he's gay, especially from his millionaire father.

When Frank learns that Otis broke up with Jude claiming he's with another girl, Frank takes a shining to Jude as the two become attracted to each other. Charley's investigation meanwhile gets out of control as he tells Pam that Gil is suffering from a disease but once the truth is revealed, everything starts to fall apart. Mamie helps Nicky with his documentary on Javier where they learn more about him and each other. Especially since Mamie knows who the father of her child is which she gave up for adoption several years ago. After a series of legal battles, Pam confesses to Charley's accusations only to reveal a shocking secret that crumbles his relationship with Gil. With Jude being engaged to Frank, Otis become uncomfortable as he wonders what Jude's intentions are, especially with being pregnant all of a sudden. Mamie learns more about Javier after an encounter with a woman named Shauna (Tamara Davies) and all hell breaks loose as she and Nicky fall out. With everyone learning about their own secrets within the coming months of their lives, everyone tries to figure out about their own happy endings.

Don Roos' interest towards not just sex and morals not only showcase some of its downside but also the sense of curiosity over how it can be used for bad reasons. Nothing is safe within the subject matter of the film where he explores everything about homosexual family life, gold-diggers, misogyny, and everything else. While the film's script is structured in a non-linear format, it doesn't miss a beat in its idiosyncratic rhythm as well its use of inter-card titles that keeps popping up during the film that gives the characters a bit of a background or the idea of what the audience could be thinking. It's a very confrontational piece of writing and it's one that is bold and honest with a nice, healthy dose of humor.

Roos' ability as a writer shines while he goes into the world of handheld camera works to bring a realism to the film. Roos brings in strange camera movements that work where at times, it seems like everything is stilled but there’s something behind the shots to look at with the inter-cards just popping up into what might happen. Even with the third act of the film that just keeps on shocking, including a brutal scene that opens with the film that is revealed near the end. Overall, Roos crafts a very witty yet compelling film about people lost in their own rules and what they want in life.

Helping Roos with his strange, handheld vision is cinematographer J. Clark Mathis who uses that shaky movement and natural lighting that gives the film a realistic, beautiful look. Production designer Richard Sherman and art director Lorin Flemming help give the film a very suburban, bohemian-like look on some of the production leaving most of the film's location just as it is. Even costume designer Peggy A. Schnitzer plays to that realism in its look with Jesse Bradford sporting old hard rock t-shirts. Editor David Codron helps bringing in that off-kilter rhythm to the film with a nice, solid editing style, even with the inter-card titles that pop up during the film. The film itself has a strange mix of music with cuts from Calexio, Dirty Three, Black Heart Procession, Hugh Burns, and Asturd Gilberto along with a few karaoke cuts in the film with some original songs sung by Maggie Gyllenhaal herself, who has a wonderful singing voice.

For an ensemble film like this, you need a great cast and Don Roos delivers with some nice small performances from Halle Hirsh, Eric Jungman, Roos regular Johnny Galecki, Tamara Davies, and Sarah Clarke. David Sutcliffe is excellent in his role as confused Gil who becomes an innocent victim in a bad scheme made by his lover Charley while Laura Dern shines in the more emotional part of her story with Charley in a masterful, complex performance. Tom Arnold is a real surprise in the film where he brings a restraint to his comedic performance with a sense of charm and warmth to the role as he brings in some great chemistry with Gyllenhaal and Jason Ritter. Jason Ritter is also good in his role as the sexually-confused Otis with light-hearted performance that brings reminder of the same kind of sympathy and humor that his late father John had brought as this role serves a fine breakthrough.

Bobby Cannavale is very funny in his role as Mexican-born masseuse Javier who steals the scene every time he’s in front of the documentary camera while revealing a strange dark side that gives him more edge into his performance. Jesse Bradford gives probably his finest and most abrasive performance to date as a scruffy-looking wannabe filmmaker with his artistic drive and surefire attitude. Bradford really gives the film not just a comic edge but also a brooding tone as he shines in his scenes with Cannavale and Lisa Kudrow. Kudrow also steals the show in her best performance to date as the cautious, secretive Mamie as she just brings a bit of humor but shows more range in her ability in drama as she really brings the emotional center of the film with Bradford as her confrontational partner.

Maggie Gyllenhaal gives a fantastic, dark performance as a malcontent bohemian who is looking for ways to break things down. Gyllenhaal uses her sassiness, sexiness, and demeanor to give her character an angst that is needed for the film. The film's best performance overall goes to Steve Coogan as the openly-gay but troublesome Charley who tries to be opportunistic but fails. Coogan uses his British, slapstick-comedy style in classy ways for lighthearted humor while delivering some of his best dramatic work in heart-punching scenes as his character represents the flaws and foolishness of all the characters in this film.

Happy Endings is a phenomenal film from Don Roos. Featuring an amazing ensemble cast that includes Maggie Gyllenhaal, Steve Coogan, Lisa Kudrow, Tom Arnold, Bobby Cannavale, and Jesse Bradford. It's a film that explores people trying to find elements of happiness in a world where sex and morals often drive their motivations or confuse them. In the end, Happy Endings is a remarkable film from Don Roos.

© thevoid99 2015


Brittani Burnham said...

Great review! I never got around to seeing this, but for some reason the poster still sticks in my mind. I'm going to have to give it a shot.

thevoid99 said...

I saw this nearly 10 years ago at a special screening where Jesse Bradford did a Q&A and got his autograph as he told me and another guy that he was up for a role in Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers which he did get. I thought it was a really amazing film as I saw it because of Maggie who was overlooked in the awards season for her performance.

Dell said...

Never did get to this. It's one of those I've been meaning to forever, but keeps getting pushed further and further down my list. You've just bumped it up a bit. Great review!

Ruth said...

Sounds like an intriguing ensemble cast. I like Maggie Gyllenhaal and Laura Dern, but yeah I was surprised to see Tom Arnold. I don't think I've ever seen him in a serious drama before. Glad to hear he's good here.

thevoid99 said...

@Wendell Ottley-Thank you. I feel like it's a very underrated film as it plays into morals and what people want from each other.

@Ruth-Tom Arnold was a real surprise in the film as it was rare to see him play someone that was quite sensitive and not look idiotic.