Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Happy Sad

There oughta be Razzies for the worst achievements in indie and art-house film. It seems unfair to heap scorn on such low-aiming studio fare as "All About Steve" and not take time to recognize the special awfulness of smaller movies.

If we did, Ken Urban's script for "The Happy Sad" would be a shoo-in. Contrived to the point of exhaustion, reliant on so many coincidences you'd have a better chance of being struck by lightning on your way to cash the winning Powerball ticket, and replete with dialogue that must be heard to be believed (the four of us in the theater each laughed out loud at one or more points), Urban's script wouldn't make it out of Day 1 of a screenwriting seminar at the Learning Annex. 

"The Happy Sad" - an idiotic title if ever there was one, and apropos of nothing - features four main characters who begin as two couples: Annie (Sorel Carradine), a grade-school teacher, and her boyfriend Stan (Cameron Scoggins), an aspiring musician (the straight white couple); and (the gay black couple) Marcus (Leroy McClain) and Aaron (Charlie Barnett), who don't seem to have actual jobs but also keep a spacious and well-appointed NYC apartment. In the New York City of "The Happy Sad," these four are, with few exceptions, the only people who exist. They manage to run into each other more times than Freddy and Garry in "Noises Off," and the effect is equally farcical. At one point, a busy city train deposits exactly one person onto a platform: Stan. Annie and her colleague Mandy (Maria Dizzia) happen to be the two other people standing there. After they interact, Marcus and Aaron come walking up. The writing fails at the most basic level.

The capital-C Concept (yes, indies too must be reducible to one-sentence treatments to get financed) is that, after six years together, Marcus and Aaron agree to an open relationship just as Annie breaks up with Stan, who finds Marcus on a gay hookup site and comes over for sex dates, while Annie and Mandy go temporarily lesbo. It's all just Urban and director Rodney Evans plugging pegs into holes, covering all sexual bases so their movie might bring them residual checks when it's played on Here and Logo. None of it is the least bit authentic (you can practically see the craft services table just off-screen), let alone sexy. Only Marcus has even the underpinnings of a potentially interesting character.

I keep coming back to the writing because it's so unbelievably bad. A few examples: Annie has a scene in front of a class of students that proves no one associated with the film has ever spent a day as a teacher. She prattles on about something totally inappropriate from her personal life, then instructs the kids to open their books to a particular chapter - just as the bell rings! After she and Stan reunite, he admits to his trysts with Marcus and confesses that he was not the top but the bottom. How does Annie react? Oh, she thinks it's hunky-dory! She says she "doesn't want to be that person" - which person? The one who's not thrilled about her man getting fucked up the ass by a virtual stranger? 

You know someone's about to drop yet another bombshell (the movie's 90 minutes of drama, drama, drama) when the person they're with launches into a torrent of meaningless patter about something like cooking with salt. We all lost it when Mandy got a phone call that her father was in the hospital: "Oh, he's fine. I mean, both arms are infected, but I'm sure he'll be OK." Hilarious. (While the homely Mandy talks to her mom, Stan tells Annie, "Your friend's really pretty.") Or when Marcus and Aaron stare at each other moonily and promise to stay together forever (that's all they ever seem to do), and in the next scene Aaron's packing up his shit to move out. The last straw came when I returned from the men's room just as Annie happened to walk into a bar where Marcus just happened to be sitting drinking. Pardon my Yiddish, but genug ist genug.

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