(Editor’s Note: The lack of spaces here for the movie’s title isn’t a typo. This is the official title of the film and the official way it’s spelled, and much like tUnE-yArDs (a wonderful indie rock band), don’t let the pretentious stylized naming convention scare you away from this otherwise delightful indie dramedy)

 

At the beginning of How I Met Your Mother star Josh Radnor’s directorial debut, HappyThankYouMorePlease, his character, aspiring writer Sam Wexler, is pitching a novel to a publisher. The publishing executive fiercely eviscerates Sam’s novel for being too timid and unsure of itself. Rather than committing to any themes and definitive character development, it wallows somewhere in the middle. While looking back on the film at its close, I’m realizing that was an intentional bit of foreshadowing about Sam’s life, one would have been forgiven for thinking during the first 2/3 of Josh Radnor’s self-written, self-starring, and self-directed vehicle that he had failed to take his own character’s advice. While the film is instantly charming and respectably quirky in the tradition of Garden State or (500) Days of Summer, it seemingly spends much of the film trying to find its own voice and traveling down more unnecessary plot paths than it can handle; fortunately its strong ending and nearly uniformly strong performances (Malin Akerman the terrible exception) help keep this Sundance Audience Winner for Best Drama an indie dramedy that is easy to recommend.

As stated, HappyThankYouMorePlease stars Josh Radner as Sam Wexler, a 29 year old aspiring author living in NYC. A mildly depressed and ultimately juvenile man, Sam is on the way to an important meeting about selling his recent novel when he finds a young African American boy named Rasheen (newcomer Michael Algieri) who has been separated/ran away from his foster family. After Sam’s initial attempts to return Rasheen to the police/child protective services fail (because Rasheen follows him around like a puppy dog), Sam simply decides to let Rasheen live with him until he can decide what to do with him (and also because he is growing increasingly attached to the boy despite all of his friends warning him that he has legally kidnapped Rasheen). Along the way, Sam meets Mississippi (Nip Tuck‘s Kate Mara), a bartender/singer that falls for Sam despite not wanting another “project.” We also see stories about Sam’s best friend Annie (Watchmen‘s Malin Akerman), a philanthropist suffering from alopecia, as well as Sam’s cousin Mary Catherine (Zoe Kazan) whose boyfriend Charlie (The Wire‘s Pablo Schreiber) wants to move to L.A.

As I said at the beginning, the film constantly vacillates between emotionally true and rich moments such as Sam and Rasheen bonding (and the heart-breaking moment when they are inevitably separated) or Arrested Development‘s Tony Hale (a potential suitor of Annie) pouring his heart out over a richly emotional dinner scene and moments that seem to completely derail these characters (mostly involving Sam being a complete and utter douche). Those moments make more sense by the end of the film, but Josh Radnor could have done a better job of making them believable in the context of the scenes where they were occurring. Similarly, while Sam felt fully developed by film’s end, Mississippi felt like some stock stereotype of the good girl that wants bad guys, and the only thing that added any character to Annie (for it certainly wasn’t Malin Akerman’s acting) was the stunt of her alopecia. Mary Catherine’s scenes with her boyfriend Charlie though were quite powerful and added a layer of authenticity to the film that other areas were lacking.

Sam was essentially a less pretentious but more depressed version of Ted from How I Met Your Mother, but I would have never expected in a million years that Josh Radnor would have had the dramatic chops he displayed in this film. His emotional transformation over the course of the movie was complex and often tragic and though Radnor’s performance was free of a lot of theatrics, its subtlety conveyed much more emotion that over-the-top intensity could have hoped to achieve. He needs an opportunity to show more of this on How I Met Your Mother. I’m not sure if Malin Akerman is capable of a good performance as she almost single-handedly attempted to take down Watchmen, and once again, her complete lack of realistic emotion and wooden expressions stole almost all of the thunder from any scene she was in. That’s a shame because Tony Hale showed that he can play more than just the idiotic manchild that was Buster Bluth. His scene were he declares his love for Annie was arguably one of the finest moments of the whole film.

If you enjoyed the indie romantic dramedies I mentioned earlier or even earlier films like Chasing Amy, you might find something to like in HappyThankYouMorePlease. The soundtrack is an aural delight with a healthy dose of current indie folk bands. This film might like the inherent optimism of Garden State or the postmodern pretenses of (500) Days of Summer, but it’s an equally heartwarming and heartbreaking movie, and those don’t come around very often. It’s not the most substantive film around, and the deep characterizations of some characters make the shallowness of other characters even more prominent, but at the end of the day, fans of indie drama need not look much further.

Final Score: B

Advertisements