Happythankyoumoreplease unfolds in familiarly quirky, coming-of-age indie territory. Yet, despite its propensity for clichés and occasionally sappy tone, as exemplified by the film’s tagline – “go get yourself loved” – there’s an uncomfortable honesty at the heart of writer-director-star Josh Radnor’s first behind-the-camera effort.
Somehow, the manifold plot devices (alopecia, photography, a cute foster kid) never detract from the picture’s winning evocation of the peculiar status of life spent as a struggling twenty-something, barely afloat in New York City. Radnor’s script is well-attuned to the lonely disorientation of being young and less than wealthy in the increasingly gentrified, high-end Big Apple and the daunting soul-searching that comes with the realization that maybe you were never meant to make it.
The film co-opts the interconnected storyline template to provide a snapshot of young adulthood in the big city. Radnor plays Sam Wexler, an accomplished author of short stories struggling with the transition to novel-writing. One day, through convoluted circumstances beginning with an encounter on the subway and a tardy visit to an important publisher, the young writer suddenly finds he is caring for foster kid Rasheen (Michael Algieri), who won’t leave his side.
At the same time, Sam’s alopecia-suffering best friend Annie (Malin Akerman) struggles with her love life, pal Mary Catherine (Zoe Kazan) weighs a possible move to L.A. and our hero confronts his burgeoning attraction to waitress-singer Mississippi (Kate Mara).
On paper, these elements reek of the sort of sloppy, cutesy heart-tugging clichés that have sunk so many Sundance-endorsed predecessors. Yet Radnor (of How I Met Your Mother) and his cast overcome the odds by grounding even the most forced plot developments in a sort of earnest, heartfelt tone that makes it impossible to not be charmed by them. One gets the sense that the characters are real, fully-rounded people brought together by their shared striving for meaningful human connections as a defense against life’s imposing burdens.
Of course, the picture never fully escapes the predictable façade. Visually, Radnor adopts the polished, idealized vision of New York one commonly encounters in romantic comedies, blending sun-drenched visions of Manhattan parks with crowded loft parties and lamp-lit scenes set on the city’s streets and stoops. His Sam is an age-old variation on the neurotic Woody Allen schlub and some of his writing falls as flat as that unfortunate tagline.
Yet the filmmaker charts a fast-paced journey through the characters’ tribulations, relies on his terrific actors to imbue their scenes with genuine likability and taps into the sort of existential angst that’s stricken anyone who’s questioned their path in life, whether they’d ever find love and fulfill the promises the future holds. Happythankyoumoreplease unfolds in the same basic territory of countless American indies before it — not to mention virtually the entire mumblecore subgenre — but it’s an evocative portrait of a specific time and place, and a universal feeling.
The Upside: The film is well-directed and smartly attuned to what it’s like to be a confused twenty-something in New York.
The Downside: Lots of silly “indie” touches (foster kids, characters named Mississippi, alopecia)
On the Side: The film won the Audience Award in the 2010 Sundance Film Festival’s dramatic competition and is in limited release currently.