Life is not a fairy tale. Good guys rarely come shining through in the end with victorious glee, and bad guys aren't always punished for their sins for all eternity. While it is undeniably pleasant to believe the world works according to these guidelines, reality tends to offer a more convincing oppositional stance. In Happy Endings, Don Roos (Opposite Of Sex) creates a vulgar group of characters that lie, cheat, conspire, and slander, but we’re supposed to hope things magically work out for them. The happiest ending would have been if they all blew up in a nuclear holocaust, but sadly Roos’ had other plans.
Happy Endings begins at the end of the story, with Mamie (Lisa Kudrow) running frantically down the street followed by a cameraman with a bad case of the shakes. A car plows into her, and she lies in the street with blood splattered across her face. A black and white caption appears on the right side of the screen stating, “She’s not dead.” These captions will continue to appear throughout the movie, explaining background information about the characters and useless information like, “He has to pee.” Rewind all the way back to Mamie’s teenage years, and we discover that she seduced her step-brother Charlie (Steve Coogan) and wound up pregnant. The family is mortified by the Jerry Springer-like incident and she gets an abortion. Or so they think.
A documentary filmmaker named Nicky (Jesse Bradford) knows the whereabouts of her long lost son, and tries to bribe her into letting him tape their reunion to boost his portfolio. Her boyfriend Javier (Bobby Cannavale) volunteers to be the central focus instead, telling a story about masseuses giving sexual pleasure (‘happy endings’) to clients. Meanwhile, Charlie has come out of the closet and is living with his beautiful boyfriend Gil (David Sutcliffe). They spend a lot of their time with a newly maternal lesbian couple, and Charlie starts to notice an uncanny resemblance between their son and his partner. On another side of town, a singer named Jude (Maggie Gyllenhaal) sleeps with a wealthy widower Frank (Tom Arnold) and blackmails his son Otis (Jason Ritter) into not interfering or she’ll blab about his secret homosexual tendencies. Is your head spinning yet?
There are so many characters in Happy Endings that it becomes exhausting following them around and keeping track of their circumstances. The captions exist to keep us mildly informed about what nonsense is occurring, but ultimately they amount to a lazy device for muddled storytelling. The people all take turns deceiving each other in a variety of conniving ways while reveling in their own self pities. As secrets get uncovered, we realize these characters are even less likeable than we originally believed, which grows more tiresome and tedious with every revelation. It doesn’t help that the film clocks in at over two hours when I stopped caring after about two minutes.
Besides the fact that the dark comedy is painfully unfunny, it shines proudly at being offensive. The film is littered with passive aggressive gay bashing everywhere you look, throwing around the words ‘fairy’, ‘homo’, and other such delights at every corner. At least half of the main characters are gay, and they seem to be gay mainly so the film can remind us over and over again of their sexual preference, and rejoice in belittling them. There is a scene where Jude deflowers Otis, but she knows he would rather sleep with a guy, so she lets him do her from behind. It’s that kind of lame attempt at envelope-pushing humor that makes Happy Endings unable to evolve beyond a caricature of itself. I bet Todd Solondz will watch this movie and curse the sky for not coming up with the storylines himself.
Happy Endings offers nothing beyond irritating characters, mean-spirited encounters, and boring finales. If a movie is going to be offensive and cross boundaries, the least it can do is remember to be entertaining. Kudrow has proven that while she can play an airhead ditz with effortless perfection, she lacks the chops to carry a film (or show, as it turns out). Much to my surprise, Jesse Bradford is the standout of this ensemble, playing against type as a character with wicked edginess and a scruffy demeanor. "It is so hard to keep your ideals in this business!" he exclaims when a scheme backfires. When Bradford is the best thing in the film, you know you've got a real turd on your hands. It's a shame that nobody else involved seemed to notice.