Combustible Celluloid
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With: Lisa Kudrow, Steve Coogan, Jesse Bradford, Bobby Cannavale, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Ritter, Tom Arnold, David Sutcliffe, Sarah Clarke, Laura Dern
Written by: Don Roos
Directed by: Don Roos
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, language and some drug use
Running Time: 128
Date: 01/20/2005

Happy Endings (2005)

1 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

An End in Need

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Don Roos, the director of the overrated The Opposite of Sex (1998) and the justly despised Bounce (2000) returns with yet another uneven misfire. Since Chaplin scored with The Kid in 1921, filmmakers have tried to recapture its perfect blend of comedy and pathos, but, as Roos' Happy Endings proves, it's not as easy as it looks.

Roos introduces us to an interweaving mish-mash of characters, some gay, some straight and all living in Los Angeles. Many of the characters engage in absurd, sitcom-like behavior during the film's first half, and then Roos expects us to feel sorry for them as they earnestly try to clean up their ridiculous mess in the second half. The serious stuff cancels out the funny stuff, and the funny stuff really isn't all that funny to begin with.

In short, Mamie (Lisa Kudrow) helps a miscreant, wannabe filmmaker (Jesse Bradford) on his documentary project -- against her will. The subject is Javier (Bobby Cannavale), a masseuse with whom Mamie is having a secret affair. Jude (Maggie Gyllenhaal) agrees to be the temporary singer in a mediocre rock band, sleeps with the drummer (Jason Ritter) who may be gay, then seduces the drummer's father (Tom Arnold). And a gay couple become convinced that one of them is the sperm donor for a lesbian couple's new baby -- and employ despicable tactics in order to find out. They are played by Steve Coogan, David Sutcliffe, Sarah Clarke and Laura Dern, respectively.

If Roos' storytelling instincts fail him during the course of Happy Endings, his directorial instincts also sputter out when they're needed to pick up the slack. He allows his film to drag out to an interminable 128 minutes, which reminded me of the torment I felt while sitting through a similar debacle, 1993's Mrs. Doubtfire. It's clear that Roos fell in love with his misfit characters, but he simply lacks the power to make us do the same.

Roos does have a gift for certain kinds of performers, though. In The Opposite of Sex, he coaxed a star-making performance from Christina Ricci, despite the weak material surrounding her. Here, the high point is hearing Maggie Gyllenhaal sing; she's untrained, but she has an aching sincerity in her voice that's refreshing after so many "American Idol" clones.

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