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Happy Endings Review

By Shawn McKenzie 07/15/2005

Happy endings have two meanings nowadays.  It used to mean that the end of a movie has ended happily, but now days, it’s a sexual term.  Ironically, the movie Happy Endings contains both, though some may argue just how happy both are for the characters.

Mamie Toll (Lisa Kudrow) is a woman from Los Angeles who is hit by a car at the beginning of the movie.  This movie isn’t called Happy Beginnings, so it’s kind of a shocking way to start out a movie.  She is okay though, as the narrative captions tell us.  The movie then flashes back to 20 years earlier.  A 17-year-old Mamie (Hallee Hirsh) has just seduced her 16-year-old English stepbrother, Charley Peppitone (Eric Jungmann), resulting in her getting pregnant.  Her parents, Chuck (T.R. Hopper) and Connie (Kim Morgan Greene), make her go to Arizona to get an abortion.  She doesn’t get the abortion though, and in fact, gives the child up for adoption.  Cut back to the present (or at least to a point in the movie before the accident), and we find Mamie ironically employed as a social worker in an abortion clinic.  One day, an aspiring film student named Nicky (Jesse Bradford) approaches Mamie with a proposition.  He knows the name and location of Mamie’s long-lost child (it was a boy), but he wants to film the reunion for a documentary to submit to the American Film Institute.  She considers it blackmail and refuses to go along with it, but later, she goes to his motel room to find out information about her son behind his back.  She brings along her illegal alien boyfriend Javier (Bobby Cannavale) to the motel room, but only manages to find a golden cross that she had given to the child when he was a baby.  As Mamie and Javier leave, Nicky comes back, brandishing a gun.  Mamie quickly proposes an alternate project for Nicky to film:  Javier’s work as a sex worker.  Javier works for Life Well Day Spa as a masseuse, but he gives “happy endings” to his female clientele.  The angle of Javier being an illegal alien and him working in the sex profession intrigues Nicky enough that he accepts Mamie’s proposal.  In fact, she co-produces the documentary by buying some editing equipment for him and watching him film Javier’s sex work with a “friend” named Shauna (Tamara Davies.)  Meanwhile, Charley (Steve Coogan) has grown up and manages their late parents’ last remaining restaurant (it was a chain before they had died.)  He is gay now, and he has been in a long-term relationship with Gil (David Sutcliffe) for five years.  They are both friends to a lesbian couple, Pam (Laura Dern) and Diane (Sarah Clarke.)  Pam is actually a long time friend of Gil, and had once asked him to donate sperm so that she and Diane could have a child.  According to her, the sperm didn’t take, so she went with another donor, producing their now two-year-old son Max.  Charley notices that Max looks exactly like Gil (from Gil’s baby pictures) and tries to find out if Pam and Diane had been deceiving them.  Also working in Charley’s restaurant is Otis McKee (Jason Ritter), an aspiring drummer who hosts karaoke in the restaurant.  He has a band called Serpentine, and he doesn’t want the other members of the band, including Miles (Johnny Galecki) and Alvin (Ramon De Ocampo), or his father Frank (Tom Arnold), to know that he is gay.  One night, a girl named Jude (Maggie Gyllenhaal) comes to the restaurant with her friend Lane (Amanda Foreman.)  She goes up on the karaoke stage and sings Billy Joel’s “Honesty.”  It impresses Otis, and he asks her to sing lead in the band.  The rest of the band goes along with it, because Frank is loaded, so he pays the band’s bills.  Jude sees an opportunity to get something out of Otis, since she was recently kicked out of her cousin’s house, so she manages to seduce him.  They have sex, though Otis doesn’t want Frank to know this, but he finds out the next morning anyway.  He is just happy to know that his son isn’t gay (he had suspected that he was), and Jude tells Otis that it was a favor, since now Frank’s suspicions will be thrown off.  They come up with a way to “break up,” but Jude finds a way to convince Frank to let her stay in the pool house by flirting with the older McKee.  They start sleeping together as well, and what starts out as a gold digging opportunity turns into love, followed by an accidental pregnancy.  In the end, things work out happily for most of the characters, as the title would suggest.

This is writer and director Don Roos’ third movie, and it is almost as good as his directorial debut, 1998’s The Opposite of Sex.  His second movie, 2000’s Bounce, was a mediocre romantic comedy that failed to live up to his debut.  I’m not sure why it took him five years to come out with this one, but when you direct a Ben Affleck bomb, it’s hard to get funding for another movie I suspect.  Other reviews of this movie have found the captions to be annoying, but I found them unique.  I thought that it was original to have the captions instead of a narrator, which could have become clichéd for some people (though I have never minded hearing a narrator in a comedy; Ron Howard does it perfectly on television on FOX’s “Arrested Development.”)

I can predict right now that a few people in this movie will get some acting awards, especially at the Independent Spirit Awards.  Kudrow, who also starred in Sex, proves again that the female “Friends” are better actors than the males.  Gyllenhaal is convincingly deceitful as Jude.  I loved the little in-joke that Roos included during a scene where Jude and Frank are lying in bed, and Jude is scrolling through movies on Frank’s TiVo when she comes upon the movie Secretary, the 2002 movie that made her famous.  Ritter has obviously moved on from his days on CBS’s excellent but cancelled “Joan of Arcadia,” and even though we’ll probably always associate him with his dad, he has proven to be almost as good as his late father.  Since the cast was so huge, the other actors got lost in the shuffle, but all of them did a fine job.

If I had one complaint, it would be that Happy Endings was a little too long.  At 128 minutes, it started to drag.  While I enjoyed it, I kind of wanted it to finally end.  I think that they were trying to wrap up all of the stories, which they did, thank goodness, but since the cast was so large, it took a while for it to reach the end.  If you go to see it, I would recommend buying the large soda and popcorn, because you will be there for a bit.  You will be happy in the end though.

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