Happythankyoumoreplease (2010) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for language and some sexuality
Running time: 100 min.
Cast: Josh Radnor, Malin Akerman, Kate Mara, Michael Algieri, Zoe Kazan, Pablo Schreiber, Tony Hale
Cameo: Richard Jenkins
Director: Josh Radnor
Screenplay: Josh Radnor
Review published February 3, 2011
Josh Radnor ("How I Met Your Mother") writes, directs and stars in this independent comedy/drama that's most impressive as a showcase of some very good up-and-coming acting talent, and for its insightful moments on relationships, friendships, and twenty-somethings learning that they finally have to embrace the world of grown-ups. It's an ensemble piece, three romantic relationship stories intertwined among a small circle of friends in New York who find themselves all facing crucial life crossroads simultaneously, each having to face his or her own decisions, individually complete messes, but still able to help friends the best way they can. Through each other, they find the way to get a leg up, out of their ruts, and proceed into their 30s with firmer footing on what's important than their 20s ever had.
Radnor stars as Sam Wexler, a struggling New York writer, successful at short stories but still not able to muster the depth and breadth necessary to make it as a novelist. While on the subway train for his big day meeting a publisher, he has a meet-cute of sorts with a young African-American orphan (Algieri, America) who has been inadvertently left behind by his foster care. Not that the lad really minds, as he desperately desires not to go back, willing to take his chances with a complete stranger who doesn't know what to do to care for his own life, much less take care of the needs of a young child. Further complications for Sam ensue when he meets Mississippi (Mara, Transsiberian), a server at a local bar to whom he strikes an immediate romance with, and he has trouble explaining just why a young Black child is sleeping on his couch every night.
Sam's best friend, Annie (Akerman, The Proposal), has problems of her own. Now only does she have a rare disease that leaves her body completely hairless, but the men that she deems as potential "Mr. Rights" all end up being oh so wrong for her. Ex-boyfriends enter her life and still end up hurting her all over again, while the somewhat creepy lawyer from her office building (Hale, Stranger Than Fiction) comes around to snap pictures of her without permission, and she just can't shake his attention. While this is going on, Sam's other good friends, an unmarried couple named Mary Catherine (Kazan, It's Complicated) and Charlie (Schreiber, Nights in Rodanthe), are finding their solid relationship challenged when Charlie has a great opportunity that involves moving to Los Angeles, a city Mary Catherine has no desire to move to.
It's obvious that Radnor is drawing from a great deal of personal experience in developing these characters, which he does with keen insight and surprising depth, for an ensemble piece. None of these characters are perfect, and they are all shown as deeply flawed, but good and meaning well, only seeking a personal happiness that has, thus far, eluded them. Philosophical elements run under the surface, dealing with such issues as love, maturity, and acceptance that life isn't going to go exactly the way your dreams always thought they would.
If there is a downside to the film, it's potentially a big one, and that is each story has its share of contrivance. The biggest one, of course, is dealing with Rasheen, the young orphan that just ends up living with Sam without question. The super-shy kid just so happens to have a penchant for interesting drawings, and Sam's friend Mary Catherine just so happens to sell art supplies. Not only does the young child not mind living with Sam, it just must seem like an irresistible thing to do because Mississippi (add that to the too-cute-for-real-life machinations of Radnor's story) she ends up living with him for three straight days on their first date (well...is it really a night out when he hits her up while she's trying to work?) And then there's Annie, with her alopecia and her free-spirited self-help discussions. She just happens to tolerate, albeit barely, some stranger coming in and snapping her photo while she's trying to work and doesn't drop dime on him.
There are more contrivances that develop that might constitute spoilers, including the ending that has its characters wrap up their stories simultaneously, but any one of the situations above might be enough to sink most movies, much less one that contains all of them. But, despite the somewhat predictable, somewhat hard-to-swallow developments that Radnor throws in, it's to the credit of the talent Radnor draws together, as well as his ear for dialogue, that he's able to sell it, and even turns some of these weaknesses to strengths. For instance, the character without hair could be a gimmick, but outside of an occasional allusion to it, it's never seen as an impediment, and she's even highlighted for her beauty. Rasheen's dilemma, which might constitute kidnapping and child endangerment in the eyes of many (certainly the State of New York would), turns from "oh come on" ham-handed plot development to some very strong, and very real reactions once people begin to figure out just what Sam is up to. And the relationship between Charlie and Mary Katherine finds another all-too-real event that they must both deal with, and while it is a common end to a story of bickering lovers, their reactions to it feel genuine, and even touching, because it smacks of truthfulness.
With insightful dialogue, interesting character developments, and actors who recite lines as if they actually do mean something deep, Happythankyoumoreplease breaks its own sitcom conventions to emerge as a winning indie romantic dramedy. The type of tale isn't completely fresh (another indie film, Cry Funny Happy, had a very similar premise, structure and even title), but Radnor makes up for it in abundance by reaching deep within himself to pull out something resonant. But it's for his ability to draw that same stuff out of a cast of young and quite capable actors that makes his first attempt at writing and directing a film a success. More please.
©2011 Vince Leo