For anyone thinking it's ironic to name a sexual farce about people with messed up love lives Happy Endings, then you're expecting too little from director Don Roos and his large cast. He's not just out to turn the genre of romantic comedies on its head by introducing a host of characters with all sorts of intimacy issues that will never be solved by the end to make everything work out okay. Mere irony isn't enough. Like a thriller director who's looking for spooks and chills at every turn, Roos is out to shock and titillate on his way to a wry conclusion about the way people's lives turn out, "happy" being such a relative term for cynics.
So the film's title, in this case, refers primarily to the sexual gratification that some illicit massage therapists offer clients. And the heart of the movie is how this underground cultural phenomenon gets the lives of a disparate group '- an abortion center counselor, her boyfriend, a gay drummer, his dad, two gay couples, a ragtag filmmaker and a sultry con artist '- to intersect.
The movie starts with the counselor, Mamie, played by Lisa Kudrow in one of her few roles where she doesn't just do a rip-off of Phoebe (the other time she managed to play a unique character was in Roos's first movie, The Opposite of Sex). Having given up a child for adoption when she was a teenager, she is torn apart when she is blackmailed by a smarmy young filmmaker (Jesse Bradford), who is supposed to be likeable in a strange way, but doesn't manage to pull it off.
He wants to film a fractious reunion between Mamie and her son, who has no interest in finding her, in order to get into the American Film Institute. Mamie placates the guy with a ham-handed plan to make a film about immigrant sex workers, which she fakes with the help of her masseuse boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale). Their part of the film descends into ridiculousness quickly, but is tethered to the rest of the subplots.
The father of that long-ago baby is Mamie's English stepbrother, Charley (Steve Coogan), who actually turns out to be gay and, as a middle-aged adult, lives with Gil (David Sutcliffe). Their side story involves the paternity of a little boy that Gil may or may not have fathered with a lesbian couple (Laura Dern and Sarah Clarke). Charley, a wonderful neurotic, pushes the rest of the film along.
He owns a restaurant that has a karaoke night run by a drummer named Otis (Jason Ritter). One night, a woman comes in and sings pretty well, so Otis invites her to join his band. Jude (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a conniver and a schemer. However all-American and innocent Gyllenhaal looks, she'd be wasted as a date-movie sweetheart, as she plays bad so good. So far, her taste has conformed and she hasn't taken any roles away from Kate Hudson and Brittany Murphy, which is good for her. As Jude, she gets to work immediately, seducing Otis despite the odds, and then going to work on his dad (Tom Arnold), who is a much more wealthy catch and easier to get into bed.
Gyllenhaal's segment is the strongest, thanks to the tension she creates by keeping these guys' heads spinning. She gets herself deeper and deeper into emotional trouble with them, and it sucks together the rest of the maelstrom plot into one giant storm. Her strength even helps pull Kudrow's tale out of its doldrums. Nothing could make these stories turn out okay in the end, but Roos gets close enough to uplifting to make it worthwhile.
iVillage Mood Meter: Will make your head spin '- in that swept-off-your-feet kind of way
Stars: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Lisa Kudrow, Tom Arnold
Director/screenwriter: Don Roos
Producers: Michael Paseornek, Holly Wiersma
Release date: July 15, 2005 limited; later nationwide
Distributor: Lions Gate