Happy Endings offers several happy surprises: For one, Lisa Kudrow has talents far beyond a ditzy blonde mainstay of Must See TV. Shes so on-target in this ensemble film that it makes her upcoming HBO show, The Comeback, look awfully tempting. Whoda thunk it? Another surprise is Tom Arnold engaging in a tender love scene with Maggie Gyllenhaal. Its hard to fathom, because frankly the thought of the two of them doing the horizontal lambada is horrifying, but the scene is actually sort of sweet.
Too bad writer-director Don Roos didnt have more in his goodie bag for Happy Endings. Packed full of art-house up-and-comers and a few Sundance darlings, the movie is set up like a second-rate Short Cuts, several different stories that start out separately but eventually intertwine. Its a formula independent filmmakers love to adopt but never accomplish quite as well as Robert Altman.
We meet Mamie (Kudrow), an abortion clinic worker who was impregnated by her stepbrother as a teen, and secretly decided to have the baby and give it up for adoption. Shes being blackmailed by budding documentarian Nicky (Jesse Bradford) who claims to know the whereabouts of her son, but insists on filming their reunion. Instead, Mamie convinces Nicky to make a movie about her boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale), a Mexican massage therapist who gives clients a little something extra to remember him by at the end of the massage a happy ending, he says. Gyllenhaal stages an affair with the rich, lonely Arnolds gay son (Jason Ritter), but really falls for Arnold instead, and Steve Coogan plays Mamies now-gay stepbrother.
Roos does well with his stable of actors except for Cannavale, whos impossible to take seriously with his refried accent and deep suntan and some of these stories are so powerful they could stand on their own. The writer-director gets tripped up, however, by employing too many indie film tricks, the worst of which is running written commentary alongside scenes. The words are supposed to add backstory and perspective to the characters, but add a few bloop sounds and youd have yourself a Pop-Up Video. Many offer droll analyses of the characters, but theyre so distracting its as though Roos has planted some wise-ass next to you in the theater and no usher can shut him up.
In Happy Endings, of all films, one would expect the big ending, where all the characters links are revealed, to have at least a thread of happiness. Again, Roos takes his gimmick too far. The loose ends are tied up too hastily. The hopeful resolutions are unnaturally forced on this dysfunctional lot, and leave us with a rather shallow final chapter.
Showing at the Main Art Theater (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). 248-263-2111.
Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.