Happy Endings is an extraordinary film. Director and writer Don Roos has delivered the best film about relationships that I’ve seen in some time. His characters achieve a depth that is rarely accomplished in film. We get to truly understand their feelings and motivations. They are real people who must pay consequences for their actions. Roos intertwines his myriad of characters into an incredibly complex story. There’s so much going on, he has the film narrate itself. It is a stroke of brilliance and superbly executed. Before key scenes, a “card” of text is inserted to set up the action we are about to see. The film would have been a disaster, completely unwatchable, if this had been done poorly. But Roos and his editor time the narration perfectly. They only go to it when they have to and it works like a charm.
The plot is very involved. It would be criminal to reveal what exactly happens, so I will be deliberately vague. There are four key characters. Lisa Kudrow stars as Mamie, she gave a child up for adoption in her teens and desperately wants to know what happened to him. Steve Coogan plays Charlie, Mamie’s gay stepbrother and the father of her child. Jason Ritter is Otis. He works in Charlie’s restaurant, plays drums in a band, and secretly has a crush on Charlie. Maggie Gyllenhaal, in the best performance of the film, plays Jude. She becomes the singer in Otis’s band and uses his feelings for Charlie against him. There are a host of other characters. They have minor roles, but are extremely important to the story.
Roos places a great deal of value on what is pertinent in a scene. There’s too much going on to have wasted moments. Each character supports the story in a nonobstructive way. They do their part and nothing more. The great success of Happy Endings is the fact that we get to know them so well. Which is why Roos utilizes the on screen narration. It sets up everything you need to know and let’s the actors take care of the rest. It is a synergy of technique and writing. Roos deserves every accolade for being extremely original in his approach, and not having it blow up in his face.
It is important to note that Happy Endings is a feel-good movie. The title aptly states its intentions. It’s loaded with drama and a fair amount of surprises, but wants to leave you with a smile. There are some hilarious moments, but its more the witty dialogue that lightens the tone than anything else. Just when things are getting serious, a character says something that rights the mood. I particularly liked Bobby Canavale’s explanation of what a “happy ending” is.
It’s a bit early to speculate, but Happy Endings could end up being one of the best films of the year. Don Roos, whose previous films include “Bounce” and “Boys on the Side”, could find himself holding a few Oscars come award time. He has made a film that is creatively structured, tremendously entertaining, and deeply moving. Lisa Kudrow, who I can’t say I’m a big fan of, has made her best film. In a summer of special effects and explosions, this is the film with heart.