' ' Cinema Romantico: Happythankyoumoreplease

Monday, September 19, 2011


Normally I'll roll with any cinematic premise. Brad Pitt as an IRA terrorist who stays in the basement of a New York City cop's home and buys missiles? Sounds plausible. Arnold Schwarzenegger as a cop who goes undercover as a kindergarten teacher to nab a drug dealer? I don't see why not. Matthew McConaughey as a Kentucky Irregular trying to find and kill the one male fire-breathing dragon in a world overrun with female fire-breathing dragons? Sure! Bring it on! It's not the premise, it's the execution. That's the key. But the premise of Josh Radnor's writing/directing debut "Happythankyoumoreplease" (2010) is more unbelievable to me than the premise of "Demolition Man."

This film is about a possibly aspiring author with commitment issues in New York named Sam (Radnor) who at the outset is on his way to an important meeting with a publisher when he sees a young black child on the subway fail to get off in time with his parents. Well, actually his foster parents. His seventh set of foster parents. Sam can't abandon the kid because he has the meeting so he takes him to the meeting which goes horribly wrong. He uses the kid to potentially score a future date with the comely waitress with the indie-movie name Mississippi (Kate Mara). He takes the kid home. He pals around with him. Finally he takes him downtown to the police station but the kid refuses to stay and follows Sam home. Sam essentially gives in at that point and the kid just sort of becomes a minorly permanent houseguest until the cookie, as it must, crumbles.

This made me think of a few wise words from William Goldman's uber-classic takedown of "Saving Private Ryan." Allow me to rephrase just slightly: And you and I think about it and decide we have only two choices. 1.) To let the kid stay at our place. 2.) To stay at our place with the kid. Take a second. That make sense? Are those the only two choices available? How about adding a third: bringing the little fucker to the police station and making him stay there.

I understand Radnor's intent philosophically, of course. A commitment-phobe forced to commit to something, but was this really the best device to portray it? He's partially an idiot, yes, but is he this idiotic? How can he not see what's coming? And even worse, how can his support network allow this to happen? They allow it to happen because the screenplay handcuffs them into allowing it to happen. How would Annie (Malin Akerman), who suffers from Alopecia, Sam's best pal, not force him to take action? She mentions it half-heartedly a couple times, but doesn't follow up. This is ridiculous. This character, as shown to us, would not NOT do anything! His cousin Mary Catherine (Zoe Kazan) gets the film's funniest line when she says: "I know a social worker and she said this is technically kidnapping." It's funny because it snaps into focus the outlandishness of the whole enterprise. Smack him in the face, Marty Catherine! Come on! And I haven't even mentioned the outlandishness of the rest of the film! Because, I assure you, it's not just the premise, it's the execution.

Please don't fault the actors. Any of them. Kate Mara manages to procure unbelievable mileage from her "Annie Hall"-esque singer who keeps returning to Sam even though everything she says implies she doesn't trust him in the slightest. Never mind that she also does nothing about this kid on the couch. Akerman wages war against the obviousness of her character's plight by never focusing her acting on her disease, yet somehow simultaneously letting us know it's kind of a dangerous, unseen undertow. Tony Hale shows he might just have more than Buster Bluth in his bag of tricks by portraying Annie's obligatory save-the-day love interest as someone who is off-kilter but not obnoxious. But the film is too timid and too pat - and the subplot between Mary Catherine and Charlie (Pablo Schrieber) often feels like it's taking place in a totally different movie - and can't rise above its precocious plotting.

"Happythankyoumoreplease" is really just the Sundance man's "Valentine's Day."

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