The theory of six degrees of separation states that anyone can be connected to any person through a series of acquaintances with no more than five intermediaries. Whether or not this is true, a random set of people are bound to either know each other or will cross paths with one another eventually, and even create interesting stories of human interaction. This is the basis for Happy Endings, which is written and directed by Don Roos.
In a nutshell, the film is actually about Happy Endings (in more ways than one). The characters are trying to deal with themselves and their situations. They’re all searching for ways to wrap up their problems and reach for that seemingly obtainable brass ring. Ten people with their own issues learn how to come to terms with their and other people’s problems, and the revolving door that is their circle of acquaintances. The characters are real; they’re relatable. They have problems that we face every day and they handle them in all the wrong ways because, like us, they don’t have hindsight.
The characters face issues that come off like an upbeat Todd Solondz film, most notably Happiness, whose stories are also linked in casual ways. There’s sex between stepsiblings, blackmail, abortions, conniving lesbian couples, parental rights for sperm donors, father-son relationships, questioning of sexuality, blackmail, and older man/younger woman relations. And although there’s a menu of dysfunction, the director keeps the story comical by using life’s ironies and interesting observations as the movie’s laugh-out-loud moments.
But most of the jokes aren’t delivered by the movie, but rather by Roos’ commentary. He cleverly and wittily spells it out for his audience and even makes a joke out of cliché plot twists by setting it up so that the audience is lulled into watching Happy Endings and believing that he has used such obvious and hackneyed tricks and then reassures us in the caption.
The cast is stellar in adding a humorous tone to the movie. Lisa Kudrow, probably the biggest name in a terrific cast, plays Mamie, a woman, who in her teens had a baby with her stepbrother and gave it up for adoption rather than aborting it as planned. Kudrow gives a sense of confusion about life and the frustration that comes along with not being in control of it, especially when Nicky, played by Jesse Bradford, an aspiring documentary filmmaker, blackmails her by offering to tell her the whereabouts of the son she gave up for adoption in exchange for her letting him film it for his application to the American Film Institution.
But it is Bobby Cannavale’s charater, Nicky who convinces the young filmmaker to document his job as a massage therapist who always goes the extra mile for his clients. The so called ‘happy ending’ as in known in the business. Tom Arnold, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Jason Ritter have the best chemistry in the full movie. Otis, played by Ritter, is a 20-something guy who is trying to feel comfortable with his sexuality and the relationship he has with his rich, widowed father, Frank (Tom Arnold). Enter Jude(Gyllenhaal), who is a too-cool-for-her-own-good person, yet in reality she is troubled and needs something stable in life.
Ritter’s performance is perfect for someone that is obviously uncomfortable in his own skin and has trouble interacting with his peers, especially the overbearing Jude. His role gives a wink and a nod to his late father, acting and comedic legend John Ritter. His awkward nervousness evokes his father’s character, Jack Tripper, had he confronted him in his early ‘20s. His acting proves that Ritter is not riding on his father’s coattails.
Roos comedic treatment is much needed to counterweight the real-life severity of the issues that one can notice if you watch Happy Endings free online. If the comedy were absent, the drama would be lost. It’s hard to connect to the characters when you’re thinking, “Otis’ band member played David in ‘Roseanne’ who starred Roseanne Barr who was married to Tom Arnold!” or smirking at the irony that Mamie (Kudrow) acts uncomfortable towards Javier as she’s being massaged since she spent the better part of a decade as Phoebe, the quirky blonde masseuse on “Friends.”
Happy Endings is more than a comedy and more than a drama. It is a satisfying mix of both that closely resembles the relationships we have in real life. The little coincidences that you don’t notice but make life interesting, whether it’s for better or for worse.