Don Roos' ensemble drama "Happy Endings" seems unnecessarily complicated. The two major stories revolve around step-siblings: hardened and neurotic Mamie (Lisa Kudrow) and gay restaurant owner Charley (Steve Coogan.) In their teens, a random sexual encounter produced a baby that Mamie secretly bore to term and gave up for adoption. Throughout the film, they are both on the prowl for lost offspring. Drastic measures are taken, sometimes funny and affecting, other times, less so.
Without doubt, Roos (whose first film "The Opposite of Sex" was an indie smash hit) is clever. "Happy Endings" has a slick, appealing veneer. At times, the frame of the film is cut in half to give us information about the characters in action to let us know who is gay, who won't die, what will happen in the future to a particularly distraught character. This is an original move, and for the first two thirds of the film, entertaining.
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Ritter, and Tom Arnold in a scene from Don Roo's "Happy Endings"
The plots of the numerous minor stories are almost too much to get into. Mamie is blackmailed by Nicky, a sleazy aspiring documentary filmmaker (Jesse Bradford). To help Mamie get her lost son's file, her Mexican boyfriend Javier (Bobby Carnivale), a massage therapist, agrees to be the subject of Nicky's film about happy endings (which has its own meaning in the world of "massage"). In the meantime, Charley believes that the young son of his close lesbian friends Diane (Sarah Chalke) and Pam (Laura Darn) is the result of frozen sperm of his long term partner Gil (David Sutcliffe). There's also Otis (Jason Ritter), the still closeted gay busboy at Charley's restaurant. He sleeps with the manipulative Jude (Maggie Gyllehaal), the singer in his band, who nearly forces him into bed. But she goes on to seduce his father (Tom Arnold). To her surprise, she becomes pregnant: the father is unknown. "Happy Endings" is teeming with lost children, but not enough happy endings. There has to be a reason, after all, to sit through all these stories.
What "Happy Endings" really needs is more Maggie. Gyllenhaal sings several numbers in the film, including an almost mesmerizing karaoke rendition of Billy Joel's "Just The Way You Are." By now, this song has become a staple of soft rock radio stations, but Gyllenhaal revitalizes it with her throaty interpretation. She is hard and tough and funky as Jude, a penniless young woman who seems to create her own prospects. Her relationship with gentle, potbellied Tom Arnold seems worthy of a film of its own.