Long ago packaged as Neil LaBute lite, Don Roos has nevertheless proved a sucker for heart-clutching finales. His new movie is named for such endings—and also, take note, for massage parlor orgasms. Received as an inauspicious beginning when it opened this year’s Sundance, Happy Endings is another Magnolia manqué, an overlapped triptych designed to convince us that life is chock-full of coincidences that we’d regard with awe if only we could look closer and see them. This variation has a motif, of sorts: All three stories involve women who exploit gay men for sex or pregnancy. The first consummation is seen in a prologue, as 17-year-old Mamie (ultimately played by Lisa Kudrow) beds her British stepbrother Charley (soon to be Steve Coogan), an encounter that, to Mamie’s great satisfaction, results in conception. “I only did it to get out of this house!” she cries, showing a kinship with Christina Ricci’s Dede, who pursued a similar strategy in Roos’s
The Opposite of Sex.
Two decades later, Mamie is an abortion counselor (and massage enthusiast) facing blackmail from an aspiring documentary filmmaker (Jesse Bradford) who knows her pregnancy wasn’t really terminated and views the prospect of a mother-son reunion as his ticket to an AFI scholarship. Meanwhile, Charley copes with his own familial woes, paranoid that his lesbian friends (Laura Dern and Sarah Clarke) duplicitously conceived their child with his boyfriend’s sperm. In the third strand, karaoke crooner Jude (an unusually hateful Maggie Gyllenhaal) sets a different kind of parent trap, condomlessly seducing her not so closeted bandmate (Jason Ritter) in order to cozy up to his wealthy father (Tom Arnold). Roos forecasts and explains every development with a title card, a device not unlike having someone yammering in your ear throughout the entire feature run time. In a more self-effacing director’s commentary, he might have asked us, at least, to forgive the pun. Ben Kenigsberg