'The Happys': Film Review

Courtesy of Indican Pictures
As confused as its characters.
3/16/2018

A closeted gay actor and his girlfriend experience personal and professional travails in this indie comedy featuring Janeane Garofalo and Melissa McBride of 'The Walking Dead.'

It's hard to get too worked up about anything onscreen in The Happys, including the cutesy English translation of Los Feliz, the Los Angeles neighborhood that gives the film its name. Directors-screenwriters Tom Gould and Jon Serpe's feature debut is the sort of quirky, insiderish L.A. dramedy that tries but fails to make us care about its troubled young characters who are, you guessed it, looking for happiness.

The story begins with 21-year-old Tracy (Amanda Bauer), a Wisconsin native newly transplanted to California, coming home and finding her hunky fiance Mark (Jack DePew) going at it hot and heavy with another man. Tracy is naturally upset, as she had been dreaming of an Ozzie and Harriet-style life with Mark that includes marriage and kids. She storms off in tears, only to return shortly later and say that she'll take him back if he refrains from similar activities forever.

Mark agrees, as concerned about his budding acting career — he's landed the starring role in a feature film — as the relationship. But things go further south when Tracy, who prides herself on cooking for her man, can't restrain herself from constantly showing up on Mark's film set with homemade lunch in tow.

Meanwhile, Tracy becomes overly curious about her neighbor Sebastian (Rhys Ward), known as "The Enigma," who apparently never leaves his house except to sunbathe in his backyard. When Tracy attempts to spy on him, we get a wan meet-cute scenario and they begin a friendship that becomes increasingly emotionally intimate, if always more than a little awkward. Tracy also finds new friends in her landlord Luann (Janeane Garofolo), a former child star who owns many of the houses in the neighborhood, and Ricky (Arturo del Puerto), a Mexican food truck owner with whom she becomes both romantically and professionally entwined.

Although appealing played by Bauer, Tracy's perpetual emotional neediness eventually proves more irritating than endearing. None of the other characters are particularly likable as well, from the self-obsessed, sexually conflicted Mark to the eccentric Luann to the truly bizarre Sebastian, who's become socially isolated as a result of being dumped by his girlfriend for a reason you'll have to hear to believe. Much of the plotting strains credulity, such as a gay sex tape featuring Mark going viral even though he's still a relative unknown. Mark's agent, played by Melissa McBride (it's nice to see the actress getting a break from running away from zombies as Carol on The Walking Dead), has some succinct advice for her client. "Don't be gay, got it? Go make up with Tracy," she commands.

The Happys never manages to find a consistent tone, awkwardly blending broad comedy with serious emotional moments that don’t come off. It also attempts to weave in serious discussions about sexuality and ethnicity in Hollywood, generally via stilted dialogue exchanges in which the themes are explored in boldface fashion. They're emblematic of a film in which nothing truly rings true, including the food truck owner's lament that his customers are no longer interested in traditional Mexican food. Los Angelenos would probably beg to differ.

Production companies: The Happys LLC
Distributor: Indican Pictures
Cast: Amanda Bauer, Jack DePew, Janeane Garofalo, Melissa McBride, Rhys Ward, Arturo del Puerto
Directors-screenwriters: Tom Gould, Jon Serpe
Producer: Dave O'Brien
Executive producers: Will Bethencourt
Director of photography: Philips Shum
Production designer: Brianna Gorton
Editors: Aaron Mathes, Terel Gibson
Composer: Patrick Sansone
Costume designer: Meredith Murphy
Casting: Sunday Boling, Meg Morman

87 minutes