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Happy Endings

Year: 2006
Director: Don Roos
Writer: Don Roos
Cast: Lisa Kudrow, Steve Coogen, Laura Dern, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Tom Arnold
There must be no greater delight for the character actor than to play a part in one of those comedy dramas in the style of Altman's Short Cuts, where several short stories have been mixed together, all of them heartfelt, all of them populated with interesting and disparate people with wildly conflicting motivtions.

It's a world away from the bland caricatures most actors get to play in studio movies, and it takes a clever writer to give each character enough weight in the narrative. It's all in the script, because apart from some directorial flourishes, this sort of modern day, normal people multi-layered story would almost direct itself.

That's not to say Don Roos, the helmer behind 1998's The Opposite of Sex doesn't handle the storyline well when it's in constant danger of overbloating. The anchor in the story is the step-siblinghood of Mamie (Kudrow) and Charley (Coogan). Their first meeting and liaison as brother and sister in their rich parent's house leads the rebellious Mamie to get an abortion (instead she gives the baby up for adoption), breaking young Charley's heart and going her own way.

Years later, Mamie, a nervy family planning counsellor is having an affair with Latino masseuse Javier (Cannavale) and Charley's in a companionable relationship with boyfriend Gil.

There's also lost soul Jude (Gyllenhaal), who use of her sex appeal to cruise through an easy life is bound to come undone, and who seduces Otis (Ritter) to work her way into his rich father Frank's (Arnold) charms.

A young man approaches Mamie, telling her he knows who her son is and will introduce them if he can film the reunion and kick start his documentary film career. At the same time, Charley becomes consumed by doubt when the baby of their friends Pam (Dern) and Diane looks uncannily like Gil.

There are a lot of secrets in this extended family - even minor characters will subvert the anticipated course of history - and when the years are overturned to expose them, nothing will be the same for anybody.

Happy Endings is long, and takes a long time to reach the closure each person needs. It sags at times and goes on much longer than you think it will, but it's frequently funny and warm and touching throughout.

And none of it would hold your interest if it wasn't for the performances. Of the cast of Friends, Kudrow's the only one who's done anything interesting with her career while her contemporaries have floundered in romantic comedies and popcorn fare (and looking slightly out of place if they try anything else, like Jennifer Aniston in the recent Derailed). Maggie Gyllenhaal doesn't really convince as the wily sex kitten Jude, but that really is her singing.

The other performances are all up to the material, and while not structurally perfect, you'll wonder how Roos managed to stuff so much information into something as meandering as Happy Endings.

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