With the release of his 1998 debut film, the brilliantly snarky black comedy “The Opposite of Sex,” it appeared as if writer-director Don Roos might be the next big thing in the world of indie film–a fresh and funny filmmaker adept at both creating hilarious and intriguing characters on paper and guiding actors into bringing them to life. When he followed that up with the bathetic 2000 Ben Affleck-Gwyneth Paltrow weepie “Bound,” it was assumed that he was just suffering from a classic case of the sophomore jinx and that his next film would be the real test.Well, that film, “Happy Endings,” has finally arrived and the verdict is in–Roos can now officially be considered a one-hit wonder because this lumbering multi-character saga is his weakest effort by far. It is impossible to reconcile that the man who made “The Opposite of Sex” could have ever conceived of something this misguided–it doesn’t even look as if it was made by the type of person with the inherent wit to even see “The Opposite of Sex.”
Like so many indie films these days (most recently “Me and You and Everyone We Know” and “Heights”), “Happy Endings” introduces a group of seemingly disparate characters and storylines and gradually begins to weave them together. In one, a counselor at an abortion clinic (Lisa Kudrow) is blackmailed by a struggling filmmaker (Jesse Bradford) to help him with a film in exchange for information on the son she put up for adoption two decades earlier. In another, her step-brother (Steve Coogan) becomes convinced that his boyfriend (David Sutcliffe) is the unknowing father of the child of a friendly lesbian couple (Laura Dern and Sarah Clarke). Finally, a golden-voiced tramp (Maggie Gyllenhaal) casually seduces a rich gay kid (Jason Ritter) and then immediately moves on to his richer, love-starved father (Tom Arnold).
Unlike a film like “Me an You and Everyone We Know,” where all of the various stories are strong enough to support their own feature films, there is not one plot thread in “Happy Endings” that anyone would want to see expanded in any way. At times, it feels as though Roos is merely rehashing previously discarded story ideas and his attempts to flesh them out (especially his constant use of title cards to fill in information on the characters and the past and future lives) merely underline how flat and shallow they really are.Aside from a couple of nice performances from the always-reliable Gyllenhaal and a surprisingly subdued Arnold, “Happy Endings” is a sad waste of time and talent–when you hear Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are” during the final scene, you will realize that those lyrics are actually the best writing to be heard in the entire film.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 BendFilm Festival For more in the 2005 BendFilm Festival series, click here.