Honesty is such a lonely word
Everyone is so untrue
Honesty is hardly ever heard
And mostly what I need from you
A movie marathon weekend! I saw Me, You, and Everyone We Know yesterday, and today Happy Endings today. Both are ensemble pieces, meaning there are many actors, and several storylines going on.
If Me, You, and Everyone We Know is about love, and the various permutations of love, be it adult love or youthful love, or fate or what have you, then Happy Endings is about honesty, or really, the lack of honesty.
Happy Endings boasts a much more recognizable cast than Me, You, where I recognized basically no one. There's Lisa Kudrow, Tom Arnold, and Laura Dern that I did recognize, then Jason Ritter (son of the late John Ritter) and Maggie Gyllenhaal (brother of Jake) who I'd heard of.
There are at least three stories going on. First, there's Lisa Kudrow, who works at an abortion clinic, giving advice to women who are seeking abortions. Initially, you are told she had an abortion. This was due to an affair with her stepbrother. Except, as it turns out, she did not. She gave up her son. A filmmaker named Nicky apparently knows her son, and wants to make a documentary about her looking for the son. Kudrow's character meanwhile is dating a Mexican (at least, I think they're dating).
Maggie Gyllenhaal who resembles young Annette Benning does a karaoke song, in fact, Honesty by Billy Joel, and is so impressive that Otis, a closeted teen who's the drummer of a band, wants her to sing for the group, when their singer had to leave due to drug rehabilitation. Otis's dad is fairly wealthy, and they live in a nice house, and seems to believe his son is gay, but wishes it weren't so.
Otis works at a restaurant with Charley, who was the one that was seduced by Mamie (Kudrow). He has a video of Charley when, for some reason, he had stuff on his clothing, and had to wear only his briefs. He jerks off to this video. Charley, meanwhile, helps to run the restaurant, and is gay, and his lover is Gil. They are friends with two lesbians, who have a son Max. Charley comes to believe that Max is really Gil's son, even though her parents claim Gil is not the father (they had tried, then given up, and gotten sperm at a sperm bank).
Lies abound everywhere. Charley lies to Diane and Pam to try to find out whether Max is really Gil's son or not. He tells Pam that Gil has a fatal hereditary disease. Mamie lies about having had an abortion. Javier lies about his wife, that he met, so he could stay in the US. Nicky hides the truth about how he knows Mamie's son. Otis hides his sexuality from his father. Jude (Gyllenhaal) lies to both Otis and his father. She wants money, and blackmails Otis so she can seduce the father. Gil hasn't told the entire truth to Charley.
Happy Endings also borrows an idea from Y Tu Mama Tambien, which I find to be a brilliant film.
Nominally a road trip with two male best friends in Mexico and a Spanish wife who's not getting along with her husband, it tracks the journey from a wealthy part of Mexico, into the rural parts, where poverty and police seem to rule. The two male leads want to have sex with the beautiful Spanish senorita (what is the Spanish word for a married woman anyway)?
The trip really is about a moment in time, when things seem perfect, and yet, even that perfect moment is temporary. Through the journey, you discover that the two teen friends have cheated by having sex with their respective girlfriends. When the Spanish woman has sex with one teen, the other is jealous, and she evens it up by having sex with the other. In the end, the two males realize (in a menage a trois) that really they love each other more than the girls they sleep with.
Yet, this too is an illusion. The Spanish woman, you see, is dying. She will live only a short while longer, on a beach that is named Heaven's Mouth. It is heavenly, but you are swallowed by it. The fisherman who live there, eventually becomes bankrupt. The pigs that run wild, are eventually killed. She eventually dies. The two friends eventually drift apart. It is this one trip, with this one woman, that culminates in a brief moment of happiness that disappears that makes this film work so well.
Throughout, you realize the brevity of the moment. The omniscient narrator tells you what happens to the characters seen, in the future. Knowing their fate makes it all the more poignant what they are going through.
Similarly Happy Endings uses text, like huge subtitles, to introduce characters, and give them background. This could be seen as laziness, on the part of the screenwriter, but it is interesting, and perhaps it the new way to do voiceover.
More than halfway through, these stories don't seem destined to interlock at all. They seem like separate stories, and you wonder, how can they possibly resolve all of it?
At this point, they seem to follow Adaptation which had a deliciously clever way to deal with the ending. Adapation tells the story of Charlie, who is played by Nick Cage, and is supposed to be Charlie Kaufman, the real screenplay writer (who penned Being John Malkovich). Struggling with the story, Kaufman attends a writing seminar where he learns about writing screenplays. They talk about how to write screenplays for action pix, following standard formulas. In the meanwhile, the film, which was about the adaptation of The Orchid Thief begins evolving into an action pic, following the same ideas given by the writing guru (played by Brian Cox) who utters the line "Heaven help you if you use voiceover". The film uses plenty of voice over.
Happy Endings runs its course, and then what? Time for happy endings. There's one contrivance after the next. First, Otis reveals that Jude is a golddigger, and eventually gets kicked out by Otis's dad. There's a scene where Mamie's car is hit by Frank's car, and he wants to make amends. They marry. Charley's urologist wants to date Charley, and does. Otis's bandmate Alvin, turns out to be gay, and they fall in love. Javier, who had married a woman just because she was willing to do it and get paid for it, falls in love with her, and they have kids.
Do these people really deserve the happy endings they're getting? It reminds me a little of Parenthood. Everyone wants happy endings, and even though I don't find people particularly pathetic nor particularly unhappy, there is a lack of trust and honesty everywhere, even if it seems justifiable. Although I liked what happened to everyone, it's probably because I like seeing happy endings too.
It just seemed like the screenplay writer just got stuck trying to decide what to do with these characters, and finally, wrote a happy ending.
Except for one person. Jude plays perhaps the most cynical character. She seems genuine and honest, but she knows what she wants, and proceeds methodically to get it, and so she lies. She's portrayed as fairly heartless. Late in the film, she's prepared to have an abortion, why? Because she's not entirely sure if it's Frank's son or Otis's son, and doesn't want to get off on the wrong foot. And when she talks to Lisa Kudrow who is counseling her on the matter, she tells her how to do her job, and , I swear, she's Annette Bening. The resemblance is uncanny.
In the end, she sings another Billy Joel song, Just the Way You Are. It too is an excellent rendition, far more heartfelt than Billy Joel himself, and serves as a bookend to her rendition of Honesty. And yet, who is Jude anyway? Why does she do what she does? Jude doesn't get the happy ending, though it's more vague than negative.
Overall, the film is well-acted, especially by Gyllenhaal and Kudrow. I'll have to say I enjoyed it for its ability to deal with issues of relationships. It is another, in a long line of films, that parades non-traditional relationships. Surely, some wholesome parental group affiliated with some church has to complain about a woman who seduces son and father, gay relationships, near incestuous relationships, and just general lying. Yet, it's so common to see this in film, that I accept it as it is, except that I can't exactly accept the ending. Perhaps the filmmaker knows that too, and is slyly winking giving us the title, and the ending, that we seem to want.