HappyThankYouMorePlease -- Film Review
Paper Street Films/Tom Sawyer Entertainment
Malin Akerman, Josh Radnor, Kate Mara, Zoe Kazan, Pablo Schreiber, Tony Hale
PARK CITY -- You've been here before, of course, that roundelay of young, middle-class New Yorkers dealing with fragile relationships and risky career moves, all while living in Manhattan digs they couldn't possibly afford.
Despite its annoying title, HappyThankYouMorePlease is more user-friendly than most such comedies. The film lacks any false angst or pretensions and genuinely appreciates its characters' foibles and mind-sets. It might even live up to that title: When it ends, you wouldn't mind a bit more, please.
It certainly has smarter characters and funnier lines than a success like (500) Days of Summer -- a New York movie masquerading as a Los Angeles one -- so this could be a smart acquisition for an indie distributor. And what a terrific calling card for young Josh Radnor, who does a Woody Allen here by starring, writing and directing his first movie.
There is even a reference to Allen in the film, which is apt because "happy" reminds you of a midcareer Allen film, except there's no Allen. Which is not a bad thing, for no protagonist is dragging up a bad childhood or man-eating women or the Nazis to explain a life forever teetering on psychotic ruin.
In fact, the lead character, a struggling writer (of course) named Sam (Radnor), wonders whether the failure of his novel to find a publisher has anything to do with the lack of angst in his life. He is "a suburban kid with good parents," he complains, so what can he possibly write about? The film continually charms you with such declarations.
Essentially, Radnor has built his story around three sets of couples, with the center being Sam and one incalculably foolish -- and therefore implausible -- decision he makes early in the film. While en route on the subway to meeting a publisher, he sees a young black boy get separated from his family. Being a Good Samaritan, he tries to help out and even makes himself late for this vital meeting by doing so.
He learns the "family" is a foster one and gathers this is not a happy situation. But, c'mon, you don't take the child home with you and subject yourself to kidnapping and even child-abuse charges.
He makes a few half-hearted attempts to get the kid (played without any child-actor affectations by Michael Algieri) to the police and child services, but the boy refuses to leave him, for Sam is the best adult the boy has ever met. When Sam is surprised by the child's natural artistic talent with pencils and paper, the two swiftly fall into a man-child relationship like you often see in Adam Sandler movies where no grown-up is really present.
Around this relationship are three sets of couples, One live-in couple in Sam's social circle (Zoe Kazan, Pablo Schreiber) might break up because of the man's desire to move to the West Coast for business opportunities. Sam's best female friend (Malin Akerman) has a medical problem that leaves her bald, but her real problems stem from bad choices in men. A friendly, perhaps overfriendly, guy at work (Tony Hale), might be her solution.
Finally there's Sam himself, who has taken a fancy to a barmaid-cum-cabaret singer (Kate Mara). When she turns down the possibility of a one-night stand, Sam offers her a "contract" for a three-night stand. The novelty of the offer intrigues her.
The characters come off as fully lived-in with no eccentricities and faults tacked on by the writer to make them more interesting. Furthermore, as the director, Radnor gives his actors room to maneuver and grow. This clearly is an actors' movie, and they all blossom in that environment.
If anything, the film is a little too sunny for Manhattan. People work through their problems, love connections are made, and even Sam's dreadful decision to bring home an unknown child doesn't seem to have the repercussions it probably should.
This behind-the-camera support team does fine work that doesn't allow a limited budget to get in the way. Happy represents the happy side of indie filmmaking, where a movie achieves studio-level production values but thankfully without the gloss and language-police that invariably accompanies romantic comedies. You might even get used to that title.
Venue: Sundance Film Festival
Production: Paper Street Films/Tom Sawyer Entertainment
Cast: Malin Akerman, Josh Radnor, Kate Mara, Zoe Kazan, Pablo Schreiber, Tony Hale
Director-screenwriter: Josh Radnor
Producers: Jesse Hara, Austin Stark, Benji Kohn, Chris Papavasiliou
Executive producers: Glenn Williamson, Bingo Gubelmann, Peter Sterling
Director of photography: Seamus Tierney
Production designer: Jade Healy
Costume designer: Sarah Beer
Editor: Michael Miller
Sales: Andrew Hurwitz
No rating, 98 minutes