Don Roos' HappyEndingsopens, uncharacteristically, on a woman landing with a horrible crunch on the hood of a passing car. Then it's back to form as the movie threads its way to and fro across 20 years of classically Roosian neuroses—sexually ambivalent and perpetually perplexed men and women behaving badly while searching for love—before looping back to the same event. By rights, this sprawling dramedy about 10 lost Angelenos connected by shifting, uneasy pairings shouldn't work at all, except perhaps in prime time. More than once, I felt as though I were watching a distended, bisexual episode of Friends.
Formal economy has never been a priority with Roos, a natural screenwriter whose best work, next to his directorial debut TheOppositeofSex(1998), was the unfairly neglected LoveField(1992), with Michelle Pfeiffer as a housewife madly longing to be Jackie Kennedy, and the exuberant BoysontheSide(1995). HappyEndings, whose title refers archly to both life and to massages that go all the way, is untidy and ungainly. At 130 minutes, too long by at least half an hour, it's afflicted with breezy, slick and largely superfluous intertitles, and could easily lose four of its characters—oddly enough, from a cheerfully uncloseted filmmaker, it's the homosexual ones, who seem planted expressly for the sake of some trite running jokes about control-freak lesbians, unfaithful gay men and super-sperm babies.
The movie is also, like TheOppositeofSex, a warm and vital homage to urban cluelessness, to the way we sorry excuses for adults displace our buried sorrows onto those we claim to cherish. Roos inspires actors, and HappyEndingshas some strikingly good performances, notably from Tom Arnold as a sweet but gullible single dad who's a sitting target for predatory young nymphs, Maggie Gyllenhaal as a drily understated predatory nymph from hell, and Bobby Cannavale as a masseur who prides himself on giving just that little extra. But it's Lisa Kudrow—the unlikely muse whose natural reserve Roos so skillfully teased out in TheOppositeofSex—who sits at the heart of the movie, radiating uptight lostness. Kudrow plays Mamie (or Mammie, as her secret lover, with inadvertent significance, pronounces it), a cripplingly ambivalent abortion-clinic therapist haunted by her own teenage pregnancy and unaccountably drawn to the young stud (Jesse Bradford) who's openly, if ineptly, blackmailing her. Blackmail—emotional, financial, you name it—is the currency by which this sorry crew screw each other over and, in trying to make amends, they often make matters much worse.
Roos is primarily an entertainer with a common touch, whose sensibility may always remain more soap than opera. Yet he's canny and wise about the big fat mess that is love and family today (at least in LA), and his movies are rarely about anything so bland as "flawed people." He understands that people, on some very basic and needy level, are all apt to behave like assholes, especially when looking for love, and that because (rather than in spite) of that, we deserve his acid affection. When all is said and done, Roos treats his characters and his audience to an unblushingly sentimental, conciliatory happy ending of the kind that ordinarily makes me feel as though I'm being played for a sucker. I wept on demand and went home satisfied.