In the world of scrolling text, internet banner ads and much publicized trailers one would think that some marketing person would have suggested that Josh Radnor’s new film “Happythankyoumoreplease” should rethink such a moniker. Overly wordy and confusing to look at are the obvious problems, but once one can decipher the actual title it unfortunately conjures up images of greeting cards rather than any type of cinema. Though maybe that was the intended feeling the writer and director, Josh Radnor, wished to covey because it sums up this perfectly inoffensive film pretty well; all except the “moreplease” part.
Centering on a group of Post-Graduates floundering through their twenties, “Happy…” meanders in a phantom zone located between the cinematic disease that is Mumblecore, and a TV pilot. Sporting tiny bits of melodrama and humor the film feels a little more slick and fleshed out than the usual Mumblecore fare, but it never pushes in any real direction, never taking any chances, seeming to stick to some safe Standards and Practices guidelines set by one of the big four broadcasters.
Though no excuse it makes some sense Radnor’s debut feature feels remarkably like a TV show as he is the star of the CBS sitcom, “How I Met Your Mother.” In “Happy…” he appears both behind the camera, and in front of it, leading the cast as Sam Wexler. As an aspiring novelist the audience is immediately supposed to understand Sam is sensitive, intelligent without pretension, full of untapped potential, and we can tell all of that from his week’s worth of whiskers. On his way to deliver his novel to a new publisher Sam is sidetracked by a young African-American boy, Rasheem (Michael Algieri) who is lost on the subway. Feeling like he has to do something Sam takes the boy in, promising to help him. Rasheem instead becomes both a surrogate best friend and an excuse to slack off for the lonely adult. Rasheem’s presence in Sam’s life leads to some funny situations, including where they go to a typical twenty-something party, a place where no ten year old should ever be hanging out. However, with the presence of Rasheem, Radnor tries to place some weight in the film as Sam misguidedly tries to adopt the boy after learning of his unfortunate home life. Coming from Sitcom world Radnor has the timing to pull of the jokes, but lacks the gravitas to carry the whole film, the dramatic parts in particular.
Overall the biggest issue with the film is the script, which suffers from having too much going on and nothing really happening. Along with the Sam/Rasheem dynamic there are three other couples that swim around in this little pool. Mary (Zoe Kazan), Sam’s sister, is having problems with her boyfriend Charlie (Pablo Schreiber) who has recently returned from California, and has become enamored of the Sunshine State. Her inexplicable hatred of all things Los Angeles makes Charlie’s plans come to a halt when Mary refuses to move with him. A strange pairing of members of Hollywood families (Zoe is the granddaughter of Elia Kazan and Pablo is Liev Schreiber’s brother) the two work as an on screen couple in the sense that they are believable, but their problems are so pedestrian that they have little resonance when the picture ends. Watching the two is like sitting next to another couple at a New York restaurant. They are so close that you are forced to overhear their conversation, be sucked into their lives for a small amount of time, and when you are done with your meal, paid the check and left, you can barely remember what they were talking about.
The second duo is Sam’s best friend Annie (Malin Akerman), and her co-worker credited as Sam #2 (Tony Hale). Annie, suffers from alopecia, has very high expectations when it comes to finding a boyfriend, and refuses the constant advances of the hovering nerd, Sam, who takes pictures of her, asks her to drinks, and is almost like a stalker. When she finally ascents to a meal with the poor schlub it turns out he isn’t as bad as it first appeared, and was only willing to put up with Annie’s repeated rude rebukes due to his philosophy of “Happythankyoumoreplease,” which is a way of looking at both the good and the bad and asking for more. It finally explains the title, but not why there are no spaces. Out of all of the actors, Tony Hale is the one that actually manages to pull some heart strings, mostly because his character is the only one self aware enough not to be slightly off putting.
The third couple is Sam and the poorly named Mississippi (Kate Mara). She is a bartender and singer who Sam falls in love with, only to realize he was more in love with romance than having an actual relationship. Sam’s inability to connect on a deeper level is a symptom of his selfishness, as seen when he freaks out after Mississippi stays over the first night, and he realizes he might be in over his head. He retreats, choosing to spend the time with Rasheem instead of facing Mississippi.
All of these things are fine in themselves, but all in one package the film feels overstuffed, yet not that filling. Radnor chooses to portray all of the characters in a more realistic light, never letting them move toward any extreme. While this even handed direction may work with different material, finding an edge to some of the characters or stories would have gone a long way in this film. While Sam is selfish when dealing with Mississippi he is never to the point that anyone might look down on him for it. Annie is self obsessed, but never so much that the audience is acutely aware of the issue.
Radnor’s light-hearted touch, in front of the camera and behind, is better suited for the small screen than the silver one. Judging from the ratings, “How I Met Your Mother” pulls in each week Radnor has some clout, and explains how this film was made with such a big up-and-coming cast. The performances are solid, and there are some funny moments, but not enough to make the film much more than inoffensive. All of this adds up to a movie that moves through the paces, not making many waves, but not really making any splashes either.
El Luchador Rating:
Review By: Paul S. Myers (a.k.a. El Luchador)