Strange by even its director’s ultra-eccentric standards, Happy Here and Now takes Michael Almereyda’s usual reality-blurring, video-mediated experimentation to new what-the-fuck levels, which is a good thing for the most part. Bubble-voiced Amelia (Liane Balaban) arrives in pre-Katrina New Orleans to investigate the disappearance of her sister Muriel (Shalom Harlow), who might have fallen victim to a creepy, philosophy-spouting Internet chat buddy. Little sleuthing actually gets done as Amelia circulates aimlessly among a group of bayou eccentrics, including a multimedia porn artist (David Arquette), a one-eyed widow (Gloria Reuben), a firefighter with existential issues (Almereyda regular Karl Geary), and a randomly appearing aunt (Ally Sheedy). With the aid of a retired detective (Clarence Williams III), Amelia searches for her sibling via an online role-playing program that could be a through-the-looking-glass portal.
If Almereyda intended Happy as his 9-11 allegory, the movie has become unavoidably attached to the Crescent City’s recent tragedy and probably owes its belated theatrical release to national interest in anything New Orleans–related. In any case, Happy approaches life’s big questions in a playfully abstract manner that recalls I Huckabees avant la lettre—e.g., Geary’s emotionally conflicted fireman, abundant references to European thinkers (Blaise Pascal and Nikola Tesla, in this case), and a climactic emergency that mind-melds the entire ensemble cast. Almereyda’s Internet and video digressions seem awfully scattershot at first, and his free-associative editing style takes forever to find a rhythm. But when Amelia takes the full multimedia plunge in the movie’s final moments, Happy becomes something inexplicably (and metaphysically) beautiful. Souls transmigrate, identities recombine, and conflicts solve themselves, though the central mystery surrounding Amelia’s sister remains ambiguous. “If there was a point, there wouldn’t be a story,” says Arquette’s slimy director. Almereyda adheres to the phrase’s screwy logic with grace, humor, and the confidence that even the most anarchic madness can yield an elegant method.