A lot or a little?
Parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this movie includes sexual language and situations (one discreet insinuation of masturbation), drinking, smoking, and some drug use. It features a violent start (a woman is hit by a car), frank discussions of abortion and artificial insemination, as well as characters' lies regarding parentage, sexual orientation, background (for instance, illegal immigration and marriage), and ambitions. Themes are designed for mature viewers, though difficult ideas are here turned into comedy (some of this is bittersweet).
What's the story?
HAPPY ENDINGS is organized around three very different characters, each apprehensive that a past or present secret will disrupt their fragile peace. Abortion counselor Mamie (Lisa Kudrow) starts the film off by getting hit by a car -- seemingly a very unhappy ending. But onscreen text explains that she's not dead, that no one dies in this "comedy." We then see Mamie as a teen, seducing her stepbrother Charley (played as an adult by Steve Coogan). She gets pregnant, her father sends her away for an abortion, and the film returns to the present. Here, Mamie is haunted by the past. Aspiring filmmaker Nicky has news about her baby -- which she had, after all -- and offers details if she lets him make a documentary about the reunion. In a second story, Charley believes that his boyfriend Gil (David Sutcliffe) has unknowingly fathered a baby by artificial insemination for their friends Pam (Laura Dern) and Diane (Sarah Clarke). Charley convinces Gil to distrust the women. Meanwhile, Charley's closeted employee, drummer Otis (Jason Ritter), has a crush on him. When singer Jude (Maggie Gyllenhaal) seduces Otis, she tells him "You should try it. You might not be who you think you are." Indeed, this might describe everyone in the film.
Is it any good?
Much like director Don Roos' other films, this so-so film features eccentric characters trying to construct stories for themselves, particularly stories that will make them feel happy. The movie's interest in storytelling -- as a way to order experience or engender emotions -- is at once formal (as split screens offer textual commentary on events and characters) and thematic (the characters lie to one another and themselves).
Jude provides a second framing device, alongside the textual comments. When she first sings for Otis, she's angry at another boy, a cheater, and performs Billy Joel's "Honesty," plaintively. At film's end, when the stories seem resolved -- Mamie's been hit by the car, Charley and Gil have faced a calamity, and Frank has proposed to Jude and then discovered her deceit -- Jude sings again, now set apart from the other characters, rejected and moved on to another town. In another, unidentified space, she sings another Joel anthem, "Just the Way You Are." Here, she just seems sad, far from her own desired ending.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about this movie's complex relationships between parents and children. Why might Mamie be worried about meeting her son, whom she gave up for adoption 20 years ago? How does Otis' fear of his father's reaction to his homosexuality lead to his flawed decisions? And how does Charley's anxiety concerning Gil's potential fatherhood lead him to jump to conclusions? How does the movie make the case for open communications, as a way to avoid tension and distrust?
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