Forgotten Films

Happy Endings (2005)

This is the film that indirectly inspired my dissertation. In an article for Film Comment magazine, journalist Alyssa Quart identified it as an example of a new genre called Hyperlink Cinema which inspired me to spend last summer trying to define exactly what it's conventions were. In the end, I decided it was a film that featured multiple characters from different backgrounds, with plots that happened in a range of locations that all criss-crossed into and out of one another without a main story to hold them together. In other words Happy Endings is a hyperlink film, and Deep Impact isn't. And don't get me started on 21 Grams.

The three interlocking stories in Happy Endings are as follows. Otis (Jason Ritter), a drummer, is trying to keep his homosexuality from his father (Tom Arnold) whilst dealing with Jude (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a gold-digging singer who has talked herself into their lives. Mamie (Lisa Kudrow) is a depressed forty-something who agrees to help a would-be documentarian Nicky with his film because he says he has information about a grown up son that she gave up for adoption when she was very young. Her step-brother Charley and his life-partner Gil discuss whether to confront a lesbian couple (Sarah Clarke and Laura Dern) about the paternity of their son since one of them is supposed to be the father.

Writer/director Don Roos is perhaps most famous for his debut The Opposite of Sex, in which an acerbic Christina Ricci trod over all in sundry to get what she wanted. He then went on to write the studio film Bounce, the airplane crash drama featuring then couple Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow which he was roped into direct and wasn't the happiest of experiences as the studio wouldn't give him final cut and wanted a much more up-beat tragedy and he felt he could give them.

Happy Endings was a way for him to return to the kind of filmmaking he wanted to do all along - lower budget, more creative control, more personal themes. What that means is that like Sex he's able to talk about the more autobiographical issues related to his own homosexuality but give them a spin which doesn't make them seem like the primary concern.

He does this though strong unstereotypical characterization and by employing a device in which backstory and information how each of the characters is dropped in through text from the bottom and side of the screen. When Jesse is waiting to meet Mamie for the first time to ask her to help him, we're given a potted history and are then told he has to pee, which we're then thinking about through the rest of the scene. This is gives us an insight into the characters far deeper than most films that is surprisingly, given the process, unprosaic and subtler than a voiceover might be.

As with the majority of the films on this list Happy Endings is an underrated pleasure that reaches under your skin. Having had to watch it probably as many times as the filmmakers in preparation for my dissertation was simply amazed to see how many subtle details are crammed in and how carefully Roos considered such things as set design and costumeto make sure that they were distinctive enough that we're immediately aware of whose story we're following and at what point. Each character's environment was designed matched their personality - so Mamie's is generally functional and so her house is rather empty and angular.

In most contemporary films, scenes are linked emotionally through music, but in Happy Endings, the approach as close to be an extension of the characters as it can be without becoming a musical. Often, montage sequences are accompanied by Otis's band, with Jude's vocals (Gyllenhaal's magical voice) drifting over the visuals her words illustrating the actions within - the best instance being the rendition of 'Just The Way You Are' during a climax that takes the idea of American Graffiti 'what happened next' captions to a whole new level with each of the character's future lives delicately revealed. As one critic suggested, there's enough material in the closing few minutes to fill a whole other movie, something I'd really look forward to seeing.

Happy Endings is available on dvd everywhere.

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