Happy Endings

on July 15, 2005 by Francesca Dinglasan
"Happy Endings" opens with what turns out to be the penultimate scene in the movie's chronology: Mamie (Lisa Kudrow), appearing quite distraught, runs rapidly through suburban streets, chased by Charley (Steve Coogan), who is extremely concerned about her sudden flight. In her emotional state, Mamie darts out into traffic, smashing into a car that sends her bloodied body sprawling to the pavement. And though the immediacy of this scene is initially shocking to viewers, onscreen notes--the first set of many that will appear throughout the film--reassure the audience that Mamie does not die. The notes promise, furthermore, that "no one dies in this movie."

Thus begins the third big-screen effort director-writer Don Roos' (following "The Opposite of Sex" and "Bounce"). "Happy Endings" details the familial and sexual dysfunction of several interconnected lives in Los Angeles. Mamie and Charley are revealed to be stepsiblings with no biological relationship. As teenagers, the pair had a one-time sexual encounter that led to the birth of a baby boy given up for adoption. Now adults, Kudrow works as an abortion counselor and is carrying on an affair with a masseur named Javier (Bobby Cannavale). When aspiring filmmaker Nicky (Jesse Bradford) shows up claiming to have contact information for Mamie's son, she reluctantly helps him make a documentary to submit to the AFI in the hopes of learning more about her now-grown child. To fulfill Nicky's desire for a juicy doc subject, Mamie and Javier concoct a story about the masseur's sexual prowess with his female customers.

Meanwhile, Charley, who ends up being gay, is a restaurant manager who lives with his lover Gil (David Sutcliffe) and suspects that the son of their lesbian friends (Laura Dern and Sarah Clarke) was conceived as a result of sperm donated by Gil years before--a claim denied by the women.

The film's third narrative thread follows Jude (Maggie Gyllenhaal), the most complex and emotionally manipulative character of the lot. Fully aware of her sexual charms, Jude has a fling with Otis (Jason Ritter), a closeted, gay twentysomething who works in Charley's restaurant. When she notices that Otis' widowed, rich father (Tom Arnold) is attracted to her, Jude blackmails Otis into helping set her up with his dad by threatening to tell the patriarch about Otis' homosexuality.

Overly dependent on the shortcut of notes to convey both the characters' individual histories and ultimate fates, "Happy Endings" suffers notably from the lack of depth that might normally be revealed through the ensemble cast's performances. Although all actors are plausible in their respective roles, Gyllenhaal's Jude is the only one that is provided with enough dimensionality to keep things interesting. Coming in second is perhaps Bradford's Nicky, whose work on a fake documentary mirrors the larger movie's recurring themes of honesty and truth--and how those notions change according to an individual's perception of them. Starring Lisa Kudrow, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Steve Coogan, Jesse Bradford, Jason Ritter, Bobby Cannavale, David Sutcliffe, Laura Dern, Sarah Clarke and Tom Arnold. Directed and written by Don Roos. Produced by Holly Wiersma. A Lions Gate release. Black comedy. Rated R for sexual content, language and some drug use. Running time: 128 min

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