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L.A. Film Festival Closes With Very Happy Endings

By Stacy Schuyler

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This genuine and touching comedy did in deed bring a happy ending as it closed the 2005 Los Angeles Film Festival on June 26.  A blend of different stories about life, love and human relationships prove to its audience that no matter how bad life gets, you can still find happiness in the end.  Well, depending on how you interpret happy.

In writer/director Don Roos' latest film, he links seemingly unrelated characters together in an attempt to show that there is joy in life, though it may be achieved inadvertently.  The various stories include that of: Mamie who is being blackmailed, Charley who is trying to determine the paternal identity of a child-via-sperm bank, and Jude who is stirring with the emotions of a father and son.  

Though the individual stories appear to be random and at times extremely strange, Happy Endings is a very insightful look at life and happiness.  Each character has their flaws and they attempt to solve their problems without much luck.  The people are real and relatable; they give the film sentiment and allow the audience to see themselves through each character.  Roos dabbles in some heavy subjects: adoption, homosexuality, blackmail and abortion, but the underlying themes are love, family and how to deal with life's challenges. 

Don't get me wrong, though.  These topics may seem deep and dark but the film is, in fact, a comedy.  Roos mocks, though not in a condescending way, life's glitches in a light and humorous manner.  He uses title cards throughout the film to fill the audience in on what the characters are feeling and to correct any misunderstandings there may be in the plot.  Sometimes titles can be seen as cheating in the world of filmmaking, a way to tell the story without having to do the work, but in this case they are too funny to be reprimanded.  Roos makes this story about the difficulties of being human an enjoyable and comedic delight that is highly entertaining and very thought provoking. 

The performances in Happy Endings are incredible; each actor and actress gives life to these presumably stereotypical but truly unique characters.  Lisa Kudrow, as Mamie, gives as much heart to her character as she does humanity to her blackmailer (a lot).  Mamie's chaotic life is filled with misfortunes and regret but Kudrow manages to play a relatable woman who deserves a better future because of all she's been through.  She's likable and laughable, confused and unyielding; Kudrow's Emmy winning acting abilities shine in this film.  Maggie Gyllenhaal is brilliant as Jude, a free spirit with no real home or job.  In her usual, sultry way she gives the film an exposed disposition as she single-handedly tears a family apart with her femininity only to bring them closer together with her demise.  Gyllenhaal's talent is superb and without her touch the film would lack sensuality, lust and sex. 

Tom Arnold plays Frank, a father undergoing a mid-life crisis.  The cars, the women and the money set the scene for an arrogant bachelor, but Arnold gives this walking cliche an appropriate amount of compassion that makes him funny and enjoyable.  Jason Ritter, as Frank's son, truly captures the essence of his character: a teenager struggling with his sexuality, inner-being and relationship with his father.  Ritter performs this coming of age story expertly with real adolescent battles and genuine emotions.  Steve Coogan does a fabulous job portraying Charley, a sentimental man confused about everything except his homosexuality; the audience sympathizes with his character and roots for him until the end.                                                                   

Roos' tale about complicated human emotions is witty and meaningful; he directs the ensemble cast wonderfully and really speaks to his audience.  He has written and directed other films in the past, including The Opposite of Sex for which he won the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature. 

Overall, Happy Endings' message is clear: life isn't as hard as it looks; every problem has a solution and every setback leads to future achievement.  No matter what happens, you can always give yourself a happy ending.

Published on Dec 31, 1969

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