Tension Relief

Tension Relief

Tangled tale of queer paternity and motherhood in L.A. soars heavenward


Directed by Don Roos

Lions Gate Films

Opens Jul. 15


Living in affluent Los Angeles, beauty, sex, a fast car and a gorgeous home—not the woes of the world—are likely preoccupations.

Unless you are a character in director Tom Roos’ “Happy Endings,” in which case scheming to get the fertility center’s log of your sperm deposits is also a worry.

With such a backdrop, “Happy Endings” faces a seemingly insurmountable challenge.

The premise is so rife with peril, not helped by an essentially drab list of roles and a plot line which is so strewn with detail that side titles are needed to keep the audience up to speed––imagine trying to stuff a steamer trunk’s worth of fur coats into a back pack––and you wonder just what Roos had in mind when he embarked on this 128-minute film.

Yet, Roos has created an entertaining, beautiful movie.

The first third of the film takes the audience down a campy road that threatens to wind up with the likes of Warhol’s “Trash.” Then, suddenly, the story goes in another direction so that by the end of the film the director is squarely behind the steering wheel. “Happy Endings” pursues three intertwined stories that progress into one cohesive tale with the overarching theme that, free of duplicity, life is much more bearable.

As the film opens, Mamie (Lisa Kudrow) is far from any nirvana-like state, as she finds herself being extorted by a whiney, aspiring filmmaker, Nicky (Jesse Bradford). Nicky knows the location of Mamie’s biological son, whom she gave up for adoption more than 20 years earlier after being impregnated by––“it’s OK, we’re not related, you know”––Charley (Steve Coogan), her stepbrother. (The side titles come to the rescue at this point and at other crucial junctures in the film.)

The opportunistic Nicky seizes on Mamie’s overwhelming urge to see her son and proposes that he will reveal the boy’s location only if she agrees to let him shoot the reunion as a documentary film. Mamie appeases Nicky, only to plot with her Mexican boyfriend Javier (Bobby Cannavale), a masseuse who specializes in “happy ending” for lonely housewives, to raid Nicky’s apartment.

In a truly hilarious sequence, the sneaky duo breaks into Nicky’s place and finds the adoption papers in the refrigerator. Clutching the needed information, they try to make their getaway but bump into Nicky, who happens to always carry a loaded pistol, as they scoot. He smells a rat. Why are they there at his place? The film gets even funnier as Nicky ends up satisfied by the masseuse’s proposal that he film Javier administering a “happy ending” massage to a client.

The documentary film project falls apart when Javier discovers his own rat. Nicky has tracked down Javier’s green card wife who suddenly she pops up as a star in the flick. Javier is furious and punches Nicky out, saying he could be deported if the film were screened. Yet even as Javier fumes over Nicky, now looking very dishy even if vulnerable in his white skivvies, Mamie finds that her earlier contempt for him has been replaced by the hots, plain and simple.

Meanwhile, over at the mansion, Jude (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and Otis (Jason Ritter) are frolicking by the pool. Otis is the poor little rich kid being used by everybody who hates his homosexuality. Jude is a lost soul who has been banging her way through life since she was 13, and she finally scores with the reluctant Otis when she agrees to anal sex. She soon moves her sights to Otis’ father, Frank (Tom Arnold), who, vulnerable in his male menopause, soon gives Jude an engagement ring along with a pre-nuptial agreement, before regaining his senses.

The final vignette starts with a close-up of four people huddled over a pile of legal documents. Diane (Sarah Clarke) and Pam (Laura Dern) face off with Gil (David Sutcliffe) and Charley, Mamie’s stepbrother defiler who is now a 30-something gay yuppie. Is Gil the sperm donor for the lesbians’ son, Max? Who really cares? After being fed so much plot line, it’s time to come up for air. This last sequence neither adds nor detracts from the film, but it delivers some delicious house and garden shots and rounds out the overall yarn.

With the exception of Jude who disappears without trace, the film ends in a marvelous dream sequence where all of the characters are ballroom dancing with each other while Jude’s voice bleats out a plaintive ballad, reminiscent of “Somewhere” from “West Side Story.” Everybody comes together, rises and goes to heaven. What better therapy for a hot summer night in Manhattan.