Saturday, August 13, 2005

FILM: Happy Endings

You can't often get the happy endings that you'd like; you have to live life with the endings that you end up with. And those endings might just turn out to be happy in ways you never could have foreseen. That may be the message of Don Roos' recent film Happy Endings, a very original story that follows the lives of eight or ten characters as they intersect in highly unpredictable ways. The film opens with a woman running as fast as she can down a side street, and then suddenly getting hit by a car (though a text caption immediately reassures us that she'll be okay). The rest of the film is no more predictable than that, as we meet an intriguing cast of characters: a step-brother and step-sister who have a brief romantic liaison, a film-maker wannabe who performs blackmail at gunpoint in order to help get himself into film school, a masseur with a few secrets, a gay couple and their lesbian friends whose child one of the men may have fathered unknowingly, and a closeted gay drummer in a rock band who sleeps with a girl who then dumps him for his father. Like Roos' 1998 film, The Opposite of Sex, the story is unlike anything you've seen before, and following its twists and turns keeps you hooked wondering where it will go next. In getting the large number of primary characters quickly introduced, Roos uses the gimmick of text captions that cut in on the side. These aren't regular subtitles, but more like silent movie captions, except that they're done in split-screen alongside the image. It's a bit visually distracting at times, but the sardonic tone of the captions helps set the film's attitude. This film is closer to real life than most in that all of its characters are partly functional and partly dysfunctional, all flawed but all human. Roos has put together a great ensemble cast, successfully putting a number of known actors outside their usual "types". Lisa Kudrow (who was also in The Opposite of Sex) is spot-on as a Mamie, who has some funny lines but is a hardened character with solid dramatic moments. Tom Arnold is excellent in playing a character that is neither funny nor loud, as he sensitively portrays a man quietly recovering his life after his wife's death. Bobby Cannavale plays a Mexican immigrant (with no trace of his heavy New York accent from Will and Grace), while Jesse Bradford plays a ruthless reprobate with artful aspirations. British comic actor Steve Coogan is also spendid in a dramatic role here. And relative newcomer Jason Ritter does a great job playing the clueless closeted rock-band drummer. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a bad girl who sometimes has a heart, and she keeps it all very real. The film has just enough witty lines and cleverly wrought situations to keep it from being too serious, but there's a lot of great dramatic character interplay, and this film just might get you thinking about adoption versus abortion. But if so, that just happens along the romping ride.

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