Cry Funny Happy (2003) / Drama

MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably a strong PG-13 for language and sexuality
Running Time: 92 min.

Cast: Michael Traynor, Kellee Stewart, David Robinette, Tif Luckenbill, Amy Redford, Darrill Rosen, Marjan Neshat
Sam Neave
Screenplay: Sam Neave
Review published January 25, 2004

There are very few films I've reviewed that have less appeal to most moviegoers than Cry Funny Happy, an improvisational, very low budget independent film that showcases a group of cranky 20-somethings mostly crying and yelling at each other for 90 minutes.  Why these films are largely disliked by the same audiences that watch reality TV shows incessantly is a bit of a mystery.  Perhaps it's because the so-called reality television shows are sensationalized drama posing as authentic, and movies like these try to be as common as possible, crafting a story to feel like mundane everyday life.  Of course, maybe that's the point.  People don't want to watch a movie about ordinary life --- they want escapism.  Why watch people squabble their pettiness when you get plenty of that everyday at home?

On the other hand, there are those people who do enjoy mood pieces like this, where we can watch the intimate conversations of others and, as a reflection of everyday life, it gives us the emotional distance to contemplate our own.  Ultimately, how much you gain from watching a film like Cry Funny Happy is what you bring into it, not just what it delivers to you.

There isn't a plot, so much as a day in the life of six friends who are reuniting to celebrate the 30th birthday of Wes (Traynor).  Wes has had a reputation for playing the field when it came to the ladies, but for the last three weeks or so, he has settled down into a life, moving in with his artist girlfriend, Sophie.  Meanwhile, Lenny and Ally, who have spent the last nine months in a long-distance relationship, are seeing each other for the first time in a while, but both have changed since their last encounter.  Lastly, there's the hard-luck romantic, Dylan, who befriends an attractive Iranian girl on the incoming train, Naima.  She speaks very little English, and is headed to Germany the following day, but he invites her to the party in an effort to get to know her, despite the language and cultural barrier. 

It's a crossroads for all of them, all of their lives in a state of flux, and the demands of maturation cause them to seek something more out of life than what they have all been accustomed to.  It's also a night where all of their pent up frustrations come to a head, forcing them to expose a side they have been trying to hide all along.

Cry Funny Happy is a subtle film, not really a brilliant one, but at least insightful enough to be interesting for those who are in tune with its quiet message of the crisis that hits many people as they approach 30.  The critical strength of the film comes from the quality of the actors, who interact with each other in a very realistic fashion, and when they get angry, all of them exhibit strikingly authentic emotion when necessary.  Although mostly improvised, the actors engaged in months of rehearsal, and once they sufficiently understood each character fully, the cameras were allowed to roll and they began to interact in a fully realized capacity.  Pretty impressive for cast that is seeing its debut in this film (with the exception of Sundance creator Robert' Redford's daughter, Amy (Giving It Up)).

Before going into this film, just know that it is mostly plotless, mostly improvised, and it's shot on with grainy digital cameras, which gives a murky, unattractive appearance to the entire production.  The characters are also intentionally petulant, demanding and whiny, so your mileage may vary depending on your ability to relate to their situation and backgrounds.  However, as a capturing of an important moment in the lives of six very confused people, Cry Funny Happy impresses with its fresh honesty and commanding performances.  Worth a peek for those who enjoy an occasional taste of modern cinema-verite.

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo