Anchor Bay // 2010 // 98 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // June 16th, 2011
Go get yourself loved.
It's impossible to avoid discussing this, so I'll try and get it out of the way up front: there are many similarities to 2010's Happythankyoumoreplease, the writing/directing debut of sitcom star Josh Radnor, and 2004's Garden State, the writing/directing debut of then-sitcom star Zach Braff. If you were not a fan of Garden State -- and you are perfectly within reason to feel that way -- you might as well stop reading now. This isn't a movie for you. If you're a fan of movies written and directed by sitcom stars that are drenched in indie twee and became festival hits, well, then, read on. Have I got a movie for you.
Happythankyoumoreplease tells the story of three different sets of couples and would-be couples, set against the backdrop of New York City. There's struggling writer Sam Wexler (Josh Radnor, How I Met Your Mother), who falls for a lounge singer named Mississippi (Kate Mara, 127 Hours) -- though their relationship is complicated by the fact that he's also living with a young African American boy named Rasheen (Michael Algieri) he thought was abandoned on the subway. There's Sam's best friend Annie (Malin Ackerman, Watchmen), an optimist working at a non-profit and living with Alopecia, which has caused all her hair to fall out. She's fending off the romantic advances of Sam #2 (Tony Hale, Arrested Development), an amateur photographer who won't take no for an answer. Finally, there's Mary Catherine (Zoe Kazan, It's Complicated) and Charlie (Pablo Schreiber, The Wire), a long term couple struggling with the question of whether or not to relocate to the West Coast.
On the basis of its title alone, I should hate Josh Radnor's Happythankyoumoreplease. It's so cloyingly precious, so impressed with its own quirk that my immediate reaction is to reject it. Having seen the movie, there are plenty of other reasons why it should make me angry: two of the six main characters are named Sam, only so that one can be referred to as "Sam #2." Another character is named Mississippi. Read that again. One character suffers from Alopecia (all her hair has fallen out), seemingly because she needed one extra "quirk" to her character (I'm not suggesting that Alopecia is quirky, just that the movie isn't interested in dealing with it in any real way). The characters are all writers and singers and artists and little black boys who enter peoples lives and change them forever. This movie has so many potential strikes against it that there's just no way it can work.
And, yet, despite all the self-conscious indie movie nonsense, Happythankyoumoreplease kind of works. Assuming you have a fairly high tolerance for this kind of thing, there's a lot to like about Radnor's directorial debut. As frustrating as it can be that a lot of the characters speak in mini-monologues and are constantly imparting quotable, quirky wisdom to one another (I was reminded of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck's screenplay for Good Will Hunting, which blew my mind as a 20-year old but not so much these days), there actually is a lot of good dialogue in the movie. Several characters are well drawn, as are the way that they relate to one another. Tony Hale, in particular, is a standout, playing an unconventional romantic lead and really selling us on the idea. Radnor knows how to compose a frame, too; though his style isn't as self-consciously formalist as Zach Braff's in Garden State, it also lacks the latter's knack for visual comedy. There's also a genuine lived-in feel to the way Radnor captures New York that isn't constantly calling attention to itself the way a lot of Big Apple-based movies and television do (and that includes Radnor's own sitcom).
For everything that surprisingly works about Happythankyoumoreplease, though, there's often a strike against it. The dialogue feels overly "written," and one senses Radnor's own sense of satisfaction at his own phrase turns. Like Garden State before it (I wanted to avoid bringing it up this much, but the movies are so similar that they even share the same problems), the movie can't help but pile on endless quirks when they can't really be supported; it's obvious that Radnor has been collecting ideas and stories for years, saving them up if he ever got the opportunity to make a movie. Rather than being selective once given the chance, it's like he just threw in every idea he ever had. Perhaps the biggest problem with Happythankyoumoreplease, though, is that one of its three main stories should have been cut out. Nothing against Zoe Kazan's or Pablo Schreiber's performances, but their characters and plight are the least interesting thing about the movie. I get that much of the movie's concerns deal with growing up and taking leaps of faith towards change, and their story does contain some of that (he wants to move to LA, she doesn't want to leave New York), but it just doesn't seem to fit in to the rest of the film. Every time it cuts away from the Radnor/Mara or Ackerman/Hale storylines, Happythankyoumoreplease sags, marking time and highlighting its own flaws without any of the good stuff to carry us through.
The film arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Anchor Bay, and it's a satisfactory but unremarkable package. The 2.40:1 HD image is warm and inviting, though occasionally flat with fluctuating detail and a bit of an orange haze that permeates the whole thing -- though I suspect both issues are the result of source issues and not problems with the transfer. Like the movie, the video presentation is pleasant at best. The 5.1 TrueHD mix is decent, too, with dialogue clearly audible and well-balanced with the film's seemingly endless parade of mellow (but pretty) indie rock, much of it courtesy of the "band" Jaymay. Radnor and his producer Jesse Hara sit down for a commentary track that gives a general overview of the production and what it was like to shoot in New York; it's a fairly engaging track that, while not required listening, ought to be of interest to fans of Radnor (probably from his work on HIMYM) or the movie. The only other bonuses are a short featurette on Jaymay's music for the movie, a couple of deleted scenes and the original theatrical trailer.
Happythankyoumoreplease isn't a movie I'll can openly recommend, because it does suffer from so many of the exact problems you would expect. I found myself liking the movie almost in spite of itself, but that also has a lot to do with my own tolerance for indie movie cuteness (I liked (500) Days of Summer, though I recognized it for what it was) and the degree to which I enjoyed the performances of Radnor, Mara and Hale. I'd be surprised if Radnor wrote or directed another movie anytime soon -- he seems to have thrown everything he had into this one -- but I would be willing to give it a look should he do so. He's just got to back off the things that made this one insufferable, if only on the surface. And pick a better title.
Review content copyright © 2011 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site