July 15th, 2005
With “Bounce,” Don Roos demonstrated that he didn’t need cynicism and independent film crutches to get by as much as he did in his disagreeable debut feature, “The Opposite of Sex.” “Happy Endings” finds the director grimly returning to his roots, crafting a film that is neither interesting nor enjoyable. A fine stable of actors are left out to hang with Roos’s limp multi-character screenplay.
As teenagers, stepsiblings Mamie (Lisa Kudrow) and Charley (Steve Coogan) enjoyed a moment of passion, soon giving birth to a boy that was put up for adoption. Years later, an unwashed film geek named Nicky (Jesse Bradford) comes into Mamie's life with information on her son's whereabouts. Intrigued, Mamie offers Nicky a chance to make a documentary on her masseuse boyfriend's sexual activities at work while she investigates the validity of Nicky's story. Across the city, Jude (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a homeless, wandering free spirit has just found her meal ticket with a rich family (Jason Ritter and Tom Arnold) that she slowly seduces and destroys to suit her needs.
Five years ago, writer/director Don Roos lost a good portion of his fanbase by taking on the more Hollywood-minded "Bounce," a romantic drama with Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Affleck. A charming, compassionate creation, "Bounce" thankfully took Roos a million miles away from his caustic, unfunny debut, 1998's "The Opposite of Sex." "Happy Endings" appears to be Roos going back after the "Sex" crowd that left in a huff once Paltrow and Affleck started making googly-eyes at each other. The desperation to be witty and sarcastic has returned to Roos in a big way with "Endings," as well as the tedious nature of his scriptwriting.
As with "Sex," "Endings" is a multiple character saga about deception and one-liners, sold with Roos's predilection for meek comedy and cutesy character flourishes. This isn't a well balanced film, which is evident in the way Roos undercuts all the performances by placing expository title cards on the screen to spell out character motivations and futures. This brings back the lackluster vibe of "Sex," which aimed for snarky comedy and undeserved pathos, and failed miserably. "Endings" is a cinematic step up from "Sex," but missing are the well-rounded and empathic textures of "Bounce," which Roos tries unsuccessfully to recreate in the finale of "Endings."
Also notable are the hair performances in the film. It's odd to mention, but I can't imagine this went by Roos unnoticed. Every character has a haircut that defines their personality, whether it's Mamie's "I have secrets" dark bangs, Jude's "I can't be trusted" messy buzz cut, or, obnoxiously, Nicky's greasy long hair which screams "hipster Hollywood" (complete with ironic heavy metal t-shirt and film-making aspirations). The hair eventually becomes distracting since the cast can't keep their hands off their own heads, and is shamelessly there to provide character identification that Roos can't seem to conjure in his script. "Happy Endings" needed much more than the intricacies of styling gel to explore the heart of its characters.
My rating: D+