August 05, 2005

Happy Endings

Directed by Don Roos Starring Lisa Kudrow, Steve Coogan and Maggie Gyllenhaal

Reviewed by Martin Tsai

A casualty of the Ben-Gwyneth tabloid spectacle backlash in 2000, writer/director Don Roos's big-budget mainstream effort Bounce failed to earn him commercial viability. It's not surprising that with Happy Endings, he regresses to the thematic and structural preoccupations of his inexpensive debut The Opposite of Sex. Both films conjure up quirkiness through self-reflexive narration, an obnoxious device mostly associated with film-school neophytes desperate for critical attention. Immediately after the opening-scene car accident in Endings, title cards announce that "No one dies in this movie. It's a comedy ... sort of." Sex and Endings also share the plotline of women using pregnancies to get ahead at the expense of unwitting gay dads. The problem with Roos's latest is the fact that it has three occurrences of this phenomenon, and - just to make it truly contrived - somehow everyone in those parallel narratives is interconnected. Mamie (Lisa Kudrow) fooled around with her stepbrother Charley (Steve Coogan) some years ago and became pregnant so she could get out of the house. Charley conjectures that his partner Gil (David Sutcliffe) has involuntarily fathered the artificially inseminated newborn of lesbian couple Pam (Laura Dern) and Diane (Sarah Clarke). After touring the lavish home of her closeted bandmate Otis (Jason Ritter), the calculating Jude (Maggie Gyllenhaal) dares him to prove his heterosexuality to her so she can possibly move in with him.

If you think all the breeder-bashing tirades can't possibly get more absurd, think again. Claiming that he knows the whereabouts of her lost son, aspiring filmmaker Nicky (Jesse Bradford) blackmails Mamie in hopes of making a documentary about their tentative reunion in order to qualify for a filmmaking scholarship. Instead, Mamie suggests as a subject the American-dream-come-true tale of illegal-immigrant masseur/sex worker Javier (Bobby Cannavale). The staged, subjective and exploitative qualities of Nicky's project reflect on the limitations of documentaries, but Todd Solondz has already written the bible on that with Storytelling.

A heavy-handed pro-life message emerges at the end of Roos's film, along with the titular happy endings you've been expecting. Surprisingly, the most conventional cliché actually turns out to be the most genuine item in this schematic drivel. As all but one character gather for the climactic semi-fantasy reunion, something thoughtful transpires in the warm, slow-mo, drunken bliss (set to Gyllenhaal's cover of Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are"). With Mamie's hard-won smile, the film leaves an impression suggesting that even though life is messy, there are always silver linings that make everything worthwhile.

Reprinted from WestEnder. © Copyright 2005 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.