happythankyoumoreplease

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happythankyoumoreplease

Directed by Josh Radnor

Screenplay by Josh Radnor

United States, 2010

If mumblecore has a name then why isn’t there a name for films directed by actors-turned directors in their late 20s, featuring a young but recognizable cast and a soundtrack ripped from college radio? If there was such a niche, then Josh Radnor’s happythankyoumoreplease would fit comfortably in there alongside films such as Zach Braff’s directorial debut, Garden State.

Early on in Radnor’s annoyingly named film Sam Wexler (Radnor), the aimless aspiring novelist who has accidentally kidnapped/extendedly-babysat a young boy he found alone on the subway spills his writer’s frustration: “My great shame as a writer [is that] I’m a suburban kid with rich parents.” A funny line in the decidedly uninteresting fictional settings and characters that such an upbringing would yield, the irony is that this extends to the whole of happythankyoumoreplease, a film whose characters are cardboard cutout, one-dimensional stereotypes.

Wexler’s relationship with the young boy Rasheen (Michael Algieri) is one of the few bright spots of the film. The remainder consists of three intersecting looks at couples, each on their own precipice. There’s Annie (Malin Ackerman) who has alopecia, regrettably gives in to the advances of her drunken musician ex-boyfriend, and wards of those of her too-white-collar co-worker Sam (Tony Hale). There’s Mary Catherine (Zoe Kazan) who is afraid to tell her boyfriend Charlie (Pablo Schreiber) that she’s pregnant and refuses to leave New York for LA with him. And there’s Mississippi (Kate Mara) for whom Wexler falls immediately head over heels after passing her on the street.

Wexler and Mississippi are the leads and it is their attempt at a mutually agreed upon “three-night-stand” that takes center-stage. The problem with these relationships is that Radnor refuses to develop them beyond the simple present. Allusions are made to the past, but we are forced to either believe Mississippi when she talks about her vulnerability or brush it off for lack of any tangible evidence. Because each character is painted so thinly the latter becomes inevitable.

The major directorial flaw in happythankyoumoreplease is Radnor’s overreliance on the montage. The technique, best used sparingly and solely to progress plot, masks weak writing. Instead of taking the time for fully realized scenes and interactions of characters, Radnor frequently falls back on the musically motivated series of shots. These short glimpses at characters staring meaningfully into the distance, laughing with one-another, and walking aimlessly, are effective once or twice as transitional device, but not as major storytelling mode.

One particular montage stands out as manipulative and poorly played. After their first night together, Mississippi, an aspiring singer when not waitressing, invites Wexler to see her act. He is obviously reluctant leading to an awkward moment. The suspense here is functional: though the three-night-stand was his own idea, Wexler is unsure whether he should attend and give the impression of a possible long-term relationship.

Cue the music and the montage. As Wexler walks the city, Rasheen, for the first time, takes his hand. The next shot of Wexler shows him paging through a newspaper and randomly opening to an advertisement with the word Mississippi. The final shot is of Mississippi receiving a note backstage containing keys to Wexler’s apartment.

The traceable through-line here is: random act of tenderness (Rasheen taking Wexler’s hand) + complete coincidence (newspaper ad) = spontaneous decision. The only thing the three parts of this equation have in common is their arbitrariness. There’s a complete disregard for actual decision-making and growth.

happythankyoumoreplease is a perfect example of a film that uses deception to disguise its lack of depth. The montages, when set to an indie-rock soundtrack, take on the surface appearance of either breezy fun or weighty angst, though in reality what we have is a series of vignettes of 20-somethings consoling one-another.

– Neal Dhand

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