Future filmmakers, if there’s one thing that your quirky indie comedy will need to have any shot at success beyond the snowy streets of Sundance, it is charm. Little Miss Sunshine had charm by the busload. 500 Days of Summer drew its charm from the charisma of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and the doughy eyes of Zoe Deschanel. Both of these films took their show to the people of America, and ultimately won. This year’s charming, accessible winner may just be HappyThankYouMorePlease, the multi-hyphenated debut of How I Met Your Mother star Josh Radnor.
With HappyThankYou (as I’m calling it for short), Radnor makes his screenwriting and directing debut by delivering the story of six adults in New York, as struggling with various points in the cycle of love. Radnor himself plays Sam, a failing novelist who in the film’s first scene finds a young African American boy named Rasheen who’s been separated from his family on the subway. He heads off to take Rasheen to the police station and return him to his family, only to find out that Rasheen’s family isn’t really his family, and his “life” isn’t all that great. With this in mind, Sam makes the inspired mistake of letting Rasheen (a child of about 10 or 11) crash at his place for a few days.
All the while, Sam is dealing with a beautiful and somewhat dangerous new girl he’s met named Mississippi (Kate Mara), and the problems of his best friend Annie, played by Malin Ackerman. On top of being hairless due to Alopecia, Annie is in a rut with her love life, a fact that might drive her back in the direction of a loser ex-boyfriend. That is, if she doesn’t first realize that a man in her office, called Sam #2 (played by Arrested Development‘s Tony Hale), may not be perfect, but perfect for her.
As you can see, there’s a lot of story here. And I haven’t even mentioned the storyline of Sam’s “cousin” Mary Catherine (Zoe Kazan), who is caught between a boyfriend who wants to move across the country and a situation that involves peeing on a stick. It’s not a complicated, but there is a lot here. And if Radnor accomplishes anything above all else, it is that he makes his characters extremely likable. Almost annoyingly likable. By the end, we’re rooting for all of them to see what is right in their lives and find the love that we all would like to have.
This extreme likability factor comes in handy for HappyThankYou, as otherwise seeing it would be witnessing the unspooling of one giant cinematic cliche. The soundtrack is a quirky mixtape of indie music (all of which is great), the main character is writing a book called “The Other Great Thing About Vinyl,” and there is a quota-matching number of weepy montages. There is also a visual trick that later plays a part in the plot. Early one, no less than five times does the camera go from unfocused to focused, or vice versa, bringing the characters into our purview, or sending them off into the blurred world. It’s a metaphor that comes in handy later. Clever, if not formulaic.
As it is in any breakout comedy, it is performance that matters. Radnor is charming, while Kate Mara is red hot sexy and in no way the manic pixie dream girl. Malin Ackerman’s performance is brave, if not because she goes hairless, but because she shows us a slightly neurotic portrait of a late-20s, early-30s adult who is frustrated with love and all the things that come with it. Also great is 9-year old Michael Algieri, who plays Rasheen. He’s the quiet type, but also a very smart and charming little guy. The performances all around are genuine, have an air of authenticity, and they make this otherwise formulaic tale not just watchable, but enjoyable.
Once again, we have are witnessing the evolution of the romantic comedy. Last year’s Sundance fest gave us 500 Days and Peter and Vandy, two movies that we’re just for the kids. They’re movies about late twentysomethings and adults, written by a general effected by the inherent quirkiness of John Hughes and television shows such as Friends. This generation is writing optimistic, but not always happy stories. In the end, Radnor’s film errs a little on the side of happy, leaving his audience (mostly) thankful for the enjoyable experience, and saying… Alright, you get the point. I will avoid the punny cliché and say that this movie is very enjoyable. As in, Fox Searchlight could buy it, release it, force you to take your significant other to see it, and you wouldn’t regret it.