|Photo by Eric Lee|
Don Roos’ Happy Endings opens, uncharacteristically, on a woman
landing with a horrible crunch on the hood of a passing car. Then it’s back to
form as the movie threads its way to and fro across 20 years of classically Roosian
neuroses — sexually ambiguous and perpetually perplexed men and women behaving
badly while searching for love — before looping back to the same event. By rights,
this sprawling dramedy about 10 lost Angelenos connected by uneasy pairings shouldn’t
work at all, except perhaps in prime time: More than once, I felt as though I
were watching a distended, polysexual episode of Friends.
Formal economy has never been a priority with Roos, a natural screenwriter whose
best work, next to his directorial debut The Opposite of Sex (1998), was
the unfairly neglected Love Field (1992), with Michelle Pfeiffer as a housewife
madly longing to be Jackie Kennedy, and the exuberant Boys on the Side (1995).
Happy Endings, whose title refers archly to both life and massages that go
all the way, is untidy and ungainly. At 130 minutes, it’s too long by at least
half an hour, afflicted with breezy, slick and largely superfluous intertitles,
and could easily lose four of its characters — oddly enough, coming from a cheerfully
uncloseted filmmaker, it’s the homosexuals who seem planted expressly for the
sake of some trite running jokes about control-freak lesbians, unfaithful gay
men and super-sperm babies.
The movie is also, like The Opposite of Sex, a warm and vital homage to
urban cluelessness, to the way we sorry excuses for adults displace our buried
sorrows onto those we claim to cherish. Roos is good with actors, and Happy
Endings has some striking performances, notably from Tom Arnold as a sweet
but gullible single dad who’s a sitting target for predatory young nymphs, Maggie
Gyllenhaal as a drily understated predatory nymph from hell, and Bobby Cannavale
as a masseur who prides himself on giving just that little extra. But it’s Lisa
Kudrow — the unlikely muse whose natural reserve Roos so skillfully teased out
in The Opposite of Sex — who sits at the heart of the movie, radiating
uptight loneliness. Kudrow plays Mamie (or Mammie, as her secret lover, with inadvertent
significance, pronounces it), a cripplingly ambivalent abortion-clinic therapist
haunted by her own teenage pregnancy and unaccountably drawn to the young stud
(Jesse Bradford) who’s openly, if ineptly, blackmailing her. Blackmail — emotional,
financial, you name it — is the currency by which this sorry crew screw each other
over and, in trying to make amends, they often make matters much worse.
Roos is primarily an entertainer with a common touch, whose sensibility may always
remain more soap than opera. Yet he’s canny and wise about the big fat mess that
is love and family today (at least in L.A.), and his movies are rarely about anything
so bland as “flawed people.” He understands that people, on some very basic and
needy level, are all apt to behave like assholes, especially when looking for
love, and that because (rather than in spite) of that, we deserve his acid affection.
When all is said and done, Roos treats his characters and his audience to an unblushingly
sentimental, conciliatory ending of the kind that ordinarily makes me feel as
though I’m being played for a sucker. I wept on demand and went home happy.
HAPPY ENDINGS | Written and directed by DON ROOS | Produced by HOLLY WIERSMA
and MICHAEL PASEORNEK | Released by Lion’s Gate Films | At Playhouse 7, Sunset
5 and Town Center 5