Friday, April 15, 2011

HappyThankYouMorePlease (2011)

It is easy to dismiss the Sundance favourite HappyThankYouMorePlease as just another sitcom-ish pretentious New York movie about self-absorbed young people whose little problems are made to look like the end of the world. I choose not to tread down that path. Personally, I found HappyThankYouMorePlease to be a disarmingly charming, sweet film about a bunch of New Yorkers dealing with life, adulthood and all the little quirks that entails. It features believable, endearing characters caught between the teenage mentalities left behind, their present carefree existences and the increasing demands of adulthood. Like any set of interconnecting stories, there are portions I liked more than the others. But what is surprising, is that I loved them all and the film as a whole. There was not a single story that was odd or pale in comparison to the others.

The film has three distinct stories. We first meet a young, struggling writer Sam (Radnor) who finds a kid (Michael Algieri) in the New York subway and takes him in. He also manages to seduce Mississippi (Kate Mara), a waitress at a restaurant trying hard to hold her own life together. His family friend is Mary Catherine (Zoe Kazan), a stationery store employee who is in a steady relationship with the bum Charlie (Pablo Schreiber). Their relationship is tested when he asks her to leave New York and move to Los Angeles for his work. Finally, there is Sam’s best friend Annie (Malin Akerman), who suffers from Alopecia; does philanthropic work and is deeply unhappy with her life. However, things take an interesting turn when she meets the ordinary looking and slightly odd Sam (No. 2) (Tony Hale) who works in the legal department of her office.

The film is wonderfully written and directed by Josh Radnor (Ted Mosby from How I Met Your Mother). The dialogues are offbeat and insightful. Although the influence of Woody Allen is evident in certain portions, there is vibrancy and joy throughout that is all Radnor. The narrative is surprisingly even with all the stories interconnecting almost seamlessly. The greatest bits are in the last half hour where each story is poignantly concluded, with honesty, realism but a strong sense of hope and optimism. It is here that Radnor, the writer really shines. The themes are nicely wrapped together in this portion and equally reflected in each of the stories. As a New York movie, it is the best I have seen in recent years.

Of the individual stories, the story of Annie and Sam (No. 2) is the finest. The characters are beautifully realised there and the story is extremely touching and beautiful. Radnor’s use of the camera is interesting in places, particularly the close ups and the lighting that create a sense of intimacy. The production quality is good and soundtrack is excellent featuring some fine songs by Jaymay specially produced for the film.

The performances are outstanding. In the hands of a more amateur cast, the film would fall apart despite the scripting. However, the cast here is extremely competent. It also benefits from the fact that they are somewhat known but not hugely popular which allows them to bring a distinct freshness to the film. The performances you really take home are those of Tony Hale and Malin Akerman. Akerman (Watchmen, 27 Dresses) sheds her glamorous image and takes up a complex and challenging role, doing it complete justice. Hale brings a lot of depth to his few lines. The other outstanding performance is that of Pablo Schreiber as the passionate but frustrated Charlie. The final confrontation scene between him and Kazan is particularly excellent.

While it may not be The Station Agent, HappyThankYouMorePlease is an intelligent and remarkable debut for Josh Radnor as a writer and director, who shows great potential for storytelling. As a 20 something, I found much in the film I could relate to. Thematically, it reminded me of Garden State but without the grim and melancholic tones. So, give it a shot with an open mind and you are unlikely to be disappointed. This is a buoyant, lovely little indie that will make you feel warm, joyous and put a smile on your face for a long time after. And like the film says, we all deserve to be happy and feel loved. Dear Mr. Radnor, thank you. More please?

Rating: 4/5


  1. I thought it was nice, a simple, feel good film. And there's nothing wrong with that, but it was pretty forgettable. And I thought Sam's (Josh Radnor)story was the only interesting one. The other two were pretty dull.

  2. We can agree to disagree. The Radnor story I thought was a partly unbelievable (the portion involving the kid) and partly too predictable (the love story), though it was written well. I thought it was the least of the three in fact. I guess we should just agree to disagree there. :)

    As regards the film, I loved it precisely for its simplicity. And its optimism. Too many slice of life and coming of age films about people in their 20s have grim and melancholic overtones. They all have dysfunctional families, traumatic childhoods and intense emotional drama. I loved this film for avoiding all that and still being honest. That is rare.

  3. i found the film to be very likeable. The dialogues are well written but there were not many scenes that stayed with me after the film.
    Also HappyThankYouMorePlease doesn't use New York much in the plot,and its nice to have a movie that doesn't make a song and dance about being set in New York.

    Creditable debut though!