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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The early reviews on this are mixed, which is a shame. I saw it at an
advance screening and thought it was one of the best films I've seen in
a long time. The plot is complex, and it expects a lot from the
The film starts as a very dark comedy. The audience reacts with a "This really shouldn't be funny, and I shouldn't be laughing at this." As the movie progresses and the false facades of the characters fall away and they're made to recognize the consequences of their actions, the tone of the film shifts and all of a sudden, those things aren't so funny any more.
The cast is phenomenal, and the film is phenomenally cast. Their chemistry seems authentic. The secret appears to be that so many of the actors are cast against type (Kudrow isn't the comic bimbo, Arnold's playing the most dramatic and heavy role in the film, Bradford isn't the pretty boy, etc.) On top of that, every one of them, at some point, sheds every scrap of dignity they have as actors to make their characters real. That's probably a credit to Roos's directing.
Not everybody is going to like this film, and that's probably OK. It's a pretty challenging work, and I can easily see a very polarized reaction to it. Those people who are willing to surrender to it will find that it is a phenomenal ride.
Having tremendously enjoyed Don Roos' previous effort, the Opposite of
Sex, I snapped up Happy Endings upon release of the DVD without knowing
anything about it. Many of my friends didn't like the Opposite of Sex;
when I asked them why, each confessed a dislike of Lisa Kudrow. When I
noticed she was also in the cast of Happy Endings, and in fact plays
one of the main characters, I figured I'd better shut up about
mentioning my latest acquisition to some of those friends until I had a
chance to watch it. Watch it I did, and I have nothing but good things
to report. Like the Opposite of Sex, Happy Endings revolves around
several gay and straight characters, with enough attention paid to
both, thus ensuring that the film could appeal to a mixed audience.
There is where all similarities end. While Opposite of Sex had a
relatively up-front and focused plot, Happy Endings manages to juggle
several plots and subplots all at once. Each of the characters lives
touch other characters lives in a style not unlike that of director
Robert Altman. In fact, I kept thinking that the pacing and juggling of
the subplots was somewhat similar to Short Cuts, or even Crash (in the
way that Crash was also compared to Altman's style). Keeping everyone
sorted out in my mind became something of a chore, but I generally like
films that make you think and keep you on your toes. There were one or
two surprises, including several totally unexpected plot twists, and
that's always good too. As a comedy I didn't laugh so much as I smiled,
and I asked myself more than once, "I wonder what will happen next". As
the end credits were rolling I decided I enjoyed my visit with these
people, and could easily have managed to sit though even more. How
often do you hear that about a movie that runs over two hours?
The cast, which includes Tom Arnold, Jason Ritter and Jesse Bradford give even and professional performances throughout. It worked in a way that good ensemble pieces always work; that is, it would be difficult to single out any one member of the cast, as they worked off each other in such a way that no one could expect all the notices. Another good thing, in my book. I am definitely going to suggest to my friends that they give Don Roos another shot, Lisa Kudrow and all. I can certainly think of worse ways to spend a couple of hours.
Filmmaker Don Roos brings a unique perspective to his films, and this
omnibus 2005 film exemplifies his idiosyncratic style quite well. Even
though it doesn't work in its entirety, it has a great ensemble cast
and some really sharp observations about a loosely connected group of
people who have in common a certain disassociation with the inner
truths in their lives. In fact, the deceptive nature of the characters
is the movie's leitmotif, and Roos crosscuts their interactions with
helpful title cards that often explain their inner motivations for
There are three basic stories that constitute the film, which recalls the multi-layered, somewhat enervated spirit of Robert Altman's "Short Cuts" especially given the LA-based ennui both films portray with accuracy. The first story deals with step-siblings Mamie, who as a teenager, had a one-night stand with her stepbrother Charley. Years later, Mamie is an abortion clinic worker, while Charley, gay and partnered contently with Gil for five years, runs their long-dead parents' last remaining restaurant. Both siblings have their own storyline - Mamie meets Nicky, a grungy filmmaker who wants her to participate in a film about meeting someone from her past. However, she convinces Nicky to make another film entirely about her intermittent lover Javier's massage practice.
The second story revolves around Charley's obsession with the paternity of a son which their lesbian best friends have just conceived. This leads to unexpected revelations that backfire on Charley. The third story focuses on Otis, a closeted teenage drummer who works at Charley's restaurant. Otis meets Jude, a vagabond singer who favors Billy Joel ballads and beds Otis in order to have a place to crash. Once established in the palatial home, she also attaches herself to Otis's divorced father Frank. It all sounds complicated and sometimes feels quite erratic, but Roos makes the film intriguing to watch.
The acting certainly helps. As Mamie, Lisa Kudrow again shows how she can use her somewhat flaky persona in an arresting way that can be funny and heartbreaking. Steve Coogan effectively brings out Charley's neuroses, while Jesse Bradford is convincingly suspect as Nicky. The underutilized Laura Dern doesn't really have much to do as one-half of the lesbian couple (Sarah Clarke is the other half), while Bobby Cannavale gamely brings out the swarthy gamesmanship of Javier. Jason Ritter (the look-alike son of the late John Ritter) plays Otis with the right amount of confusion and anxiety. As the bonhomous Jude, Maggie Gyllenhaal (Jake's sister) gives a shrewd performance that never borders on the obvious, while Tom Arnold surprises with a subtle turn as the comparatively innocent Frank.
The DVD has an alternate commentary track with Roos, Kudrow and cinematographer Clark Mathis, as well as ten deleted scenes of varying quality and three scenes that constitute the lacking gag reel. During the final film's lengthy 128-minute running time, there are scenes that seem to drift with no reason and character motivations that go unexplained. Regardless, the film is definitely worth seeing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Movie critics must be watching some pretty fabulous stuff, because
that's the only explanation I can imagine for the lukewarm reception
they've given this film. I totally loved it. Wonderful acting by
wonderful actors, portraying messy people living messy lives, with
witty dialog as an added benefit. What's not too like? The general take
I had heard before seeing the film myself was "not up to par" but I
couldn't disagree more. I haven't seen anything as fun and entertaining
and charming and fresh in a very long time. Ignore the critics and go
see this movie.
I especially loved Lisa Kudrow, who is very talented, but also looking noticeably not glamorous -- I think she's very brave to look her age. She doesn't have to do it, and it really adds to her performance and to the film. Also a pleasant surprise (at least to me) is Maggie Gyllenhaal's lovely singing voice. Her rendition of Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are" was heartbreaking. There were many other memorable moments. This movie will be rattling around in my head for quite awhile.
Writer/director Don Loos has the corner on bizarre, wiggly,
frustrating, veritas-infused glimpses at the absurdity of human
'communications/relationships' happening right now. His previous
writings (some with direction credits) include 'The Opposite of Sex',
'Boys on the Side', 'Love Field', and 'Bounce', all of which explore
the desperate need for regular people to find just a hint that their
time on the planet makes a difference - at least in some small way
despite their larger delusions. His characters are quirky, both bigger
than life and pathetically dreary, and cross the lines of the expected
borders of types: Roos is one of the few directors who consistently
plays the 'minority groups' (gays, lesbians, African Americans,
Hispanics, etc) as simply other characters on the playing field of
life. And for that he deserves some respect from everyone.
HAPPY ENDINGS (suggestively referring to the ad promise found in masseur/masseuse in the Massage Available columns of magazines and some newspapers!) follows the lives of multiple characters whose rather insignificant existences intersect in random ways that produce ten 'stories', all interrelated. Topics on the table include abortion, gay relationships, homophobia, parental dysfunction/child dysfunction, emotional manipulation, blackmail, film-making, artificial insemination, failed dreams, and more. Sound like ingredients for a comedy? Well, no, but in Roos' funky hands these incipient tragic topics weave through tragic trails that result in dark comedy outcomes. And that is the fun of the film.
Yes, there are problems with the movie that others have pointed out well. The gimmick of sidebars explaining what the script doesn't attack, visible on the half screen with scene change action, begin as clever and end up as annoying: if the script can't carry the issues without footnotes then there is just too much information for the viewer to digest. What keeps this movie afloat are the performances by Maggie Gyllenhaal, Lisa Kudrow, Jess Bradford, Bobby Carnavale, Tom Arnold, Steve Coogan, Laura Dern, Sarah Clarke, Jason Ritter, David Sutcliffe and Amanda Foreman. This is a talented cast and at times we feel they are actually overcoming the plot's weaknesses with their strong imagery.
Every Roos film feels like a work in progress, but there are enough fine lines of creativity that promise us someday they will all gel into an exceptional film. This one is too long and too choppy and too difficult to follow with all the visual interruptions of sidebar words to be his best work. Grady Harp
I enjoyed Happy Endings more than any other film I've seen this year. I admit I had a difficult time following the convoluted plot and that the side title narration did not really help, but I found the film to be most rewarding. I am a big fan of The Opposite of Sex so I was anxious to see the results of what this writer/director would do with this same kind of material. I was not disappointed. In a way, Happy Endings reminded me of Sideways but was far more compelling. The performances were extraordinary especially Maggie Gylenhall and Tom Arnold who gives the performance of his life. The fact that he did not get nominated for an Oscar is staggering. This film is NOT FOR EVERYBODY but for those who appreciate intelligent and subtle film making
My wife rented this yesterday and we watched it last night. I'd never
heard of it. After watching about 15 minutes of it, I thought "What in
the world is this," because it was so frenetic. As written in the
summary, there are several stories simultaneously being told, and it's
kinda hard to keep everything straight. But, after awhile it starts to
come together and you begin to pull for one or another of the
I've never watched "Friends," so I haven't seen Lisa Kudrow much, but this was a good performance as a girl who alternates between spineless and fed up. I hadn't seen much of the rest of the cast before, so I can't comment. I also think it's interesting that Tom Arnold was first known for being married to Rosanne Barr, but it seems that lately he's gotten many various supporting roles, enough so that I find myself thinking: "Yeah, he was married to Rosanne whats-her-name?" Anyway, I liked this movie.
Yes, it's bizarre, quirky, odd, whatever you want to call it, but it ends well. It's one to watch. One more thing: it has many spots where there is a black sidebar with kind of "footnote" information. I found myself eventually pausing the DVD to read these things, because I didn't want to miss the music and a bit of action that might be taking place. I wish they would have just paused the movie at these points, and they were worthwhile explanations. Thumbs up!
This is worth renting. Not a classic but a distinct original with many
commendable performances by a large cast of recognizable talent.
Now, keep in mind that this is a rambling soap opera crammed into roughly two hours. In order to keep pace, you'll need the following plan. First, get a nice cappuccino. Get your bathroom breaks out of the way, and put your phone on silent ring and maybe discourage visitors because if you blink or walk away from this for even a moment, you will miss something and it will be tantamount to the story.
This is very original though not too stylish. I don't know if everyone comes from this feeling better about the human condition or having enjoyed their time spent watching it but you need to be aware that this is an exercise in listening and paying attention, which will challenge many. If you fall into the category of "many," maybe this isn't for you.
If you like entertainment that takes you away from the formulaic layout and typical dialogue that you can see coming, this will not disappoint.
Enjoy and may you all have happy endings of your own-whatever they may be.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In a summer of a complete and utter cinematic disappointments, I was finally glad to see something that not only entertained, but allowed the audience to empathize with the characters, as well. Lisa Kudrow, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Jason Ritter shine in an impressive cast that effectively portrays a wide spectrum of emotions all in a darkly comic light. The soundtrack is light at times and melancholy at others, highlighted by Maggie Gyllenhaal's deep, sultry vocals that often reminded me of Nico from the Velvet Underground. If you're looking for instant laughs this is not the movie for you. Director Don Roos weaves a subtle sense of humor through the film, but never sacrifices the story for slapstick farce. That being said, the obsessive Charley (Steve Coogan) does set up some awkward and ridiculous situations for himself that do provide some laugh out loud moments. Roos intersects the three main subplots seamlessly and along the way gives us a satisfying film sure to cure some of the reservations we've begun to have about this summer's offerings. I highly recommend this movie, so go catch it before it slips away to the limbo between the theater and Blockbuster.
Don Roos wrote and directed this very lively, sometimes poignant though not very funny comedy-drama all centering around an abortion counselor's secret that she had given birth to her step-brother's baby when she was a teenager and quickly gave it up for adoption. In this role, Lisa Kudrow really excels with the writer-director's dryly observant style: she's loose but not flailing, inquisitive but not harping, apprehensive but seldom frightened. Kudrow (whose comic timing reminds one of Roseanne's in the early years of her sitcom) mixes a look of anxiety, despair, nervousness and anticipation with astonishing skill--even when her character is humiliated (or humiliates herself), Kudrow has a way of keeping all the flightiness grounded in some form of reality. Matching her, Tom Arnold and Maggie Gyllenhaal have some wonderful early scenes (she's a born user and a killer karaoke singer; he's the father of the gay twenty-one year old drummer whom she has already seduced and discarded). It's too bad we don't get more of this relationship, and also that Roos covers up most of their dialogue with soundtrack music (it's a coupling which happens in montage). Roos plants little subtitles throughout the movie to help sort out who's-who, and this works to some degree (yet it's a relief when the device is momentarily given a rest). Some of the other story threads are dim (a couple of which center on gay men turning their homosexuality on and off like a light-switch), but Kudrow's work and Tom Arnold's natural, easy-going presence keep the film absorbing and often appealing. And nobody sings "Just the Way You Are" like Gyllenhaal. **1/2 from ****
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