[14 August 2011]
If you were one of the few souls who caught Happythankyoumoreplease in theaters, it was more than likely for one reason in particular: you’re a fan of CBS’ long-running sitcom How I Met Your Mother and its lovesick star, Josh Radnor. Radnor, who plays architect Ted Mosby on TV, makes his feature film debut in the awkwardly titled dram-rom-com as a director, writer, and leading actor. Curious admirers want to know if, like David Schwimmer of Friends fame before him, Radnor has any talent behind the camera. In the end, he does, but the film could have used more of his visual touch and less of his writer’s flourish.
Radnor stars as Sam Wexler, a short story writer struggling to get his novel published. On the way to his last-chance interview, Sam notices a young boy left behind on the subway. He tries to take him to the police, but when little Rasheen refuses, he puts him up at his own place, instead. Later, he takes him to a party hosted by his friend Annie (Malin Ackerman) where the bald-bodied beauty enlightens her friends on the trials and tribulations of alopecia. Despite her lack of long, flowing locks, Annie finds herself stalked by a co-worker intent on taking her out.
Obscurely connected to Annie and Sam are Mary Catherine and Charlie, an extremely touchy and affectionate couple trying to decide whether it’s worth the move to L.A. for Charlie’s career. You see, Happythankyoumoreplease is a New York movie, not only in the sense that it’s set in the Big Apple, but that everyone there sees no world outside the city limits. It also means the film’s symbolism treats NYC as heaven and L.A. as hell. Purity vs. corruption. Good vs. evil. Bears vs. Packers. Well, scratch that last one, but you get the point. If Charlie moves to L.A., he’s ruining his life and Mary Catherine’s.
Radnor balances these three stories with the cutting and connection of your average sitcom. Though the separate tales get close to equal screen time, they aren’t of equal importance or significance to our lead (or leads, considering how much attention is paid to Annie). Charlie and Mary Catherine are too loosely connected to be as substantial as Radnor hopes, and he knows it. There are a few throwaway scenes featuring Sam and Mary Catherine and Sam and Charlie clearly included solely to prove why the couple keeps popping up at all.
Luckily for Radnor, he found two very likable and very talented young actors for his weakest couple’s story. Zoe Kazan plays Mary Catherine with a frustrated, frightened desperation difficult to depict without becoming incredibly annoying. Pablo Schreiber, possibly best known for his work on season two of The Wire, is appropriately one level below her. His Charlie is confused and excited, but with an authentic amount of devout desperation. Basically, she sees aspects of the decision he hasn’t considered (as is usually the case between a man and woman), partially because she has a bit more information. You are always rooting for this couple, despite wondering how they fit into the other two tales.
With the other couples, you’re more concerned with why they aren’t working already. Annie is constantly attracted to jerks (what a rare characteristic), and lo and behold a nice guy wants to take her out. Problem solved, right? Well, no. She’s just not that into him, but I can’t blame her. Every time I look at Tony Hale all I see is the permanently adolescent Buster Bluth, despite a solid out of character turn here as the overly excited “good guy” Sam #2. Though the fact her plotline isn’t solely about her condition is a welcome deviation from the norm, the story she’s saddled with doesn’t do her could-have-been-complex character justice.
Radnor actually saddles Sam #1 with two fully realized, though, again, separate stories. One involves the boy he found and the other a woman he met with Rasheen’s help. Sam’s issue with Mississippi, his strangely named love interest, is also rather superficial in the end – Sam’s kind of a jerk. He knows he’s a good guy. He knows he’s a good writer. He repeatedly tells people these beliefs because he is, at heart and presumably on paper, but it feels as though because he knows this he allows himself to do the occasional bad thing. While it may be a perfectly feasible movie plot given the right person or situation leading him towards the light, nothing that goes down in Happythankyoumoreplease feels relevant enough to improve this Woody Allen-wannabe.
Radnor’s allusions to the New York film great notwithstanding, his first attempt at feature film stardom is far from a waste of his or your time. Even the DVD has a decent amount of extras including worthwhile deleted scenes and commentary by Radnor. More importantly, it does its job as a date movie. The music, mostly by a singer/songwriter called Jaymay who is interviewed and briefly dissected in another of the DVD’s special features, sets a lovely atmosphere for cuddling (if you’re into that), and the overly talky final 20 minutes allow ample time to make out.
Even if your advances are shot down, the actors here are worth watching (Radnor is actually the weakest of the bunch), the story easily relatable, and the lessons simple to comprehend. It’s a safe movie with plenty of passion behind it, bolstering it ever so slightly above mediocrity. Anyone curious enough to find it won’t be disappointed.
P.S. I hope Radnor keeps doing movies and becomes successful enough to quit How I Met Your Mother. Ted is an incredibly self-absorbed, cloying character and he brings the show down. Barney (NPH!) and Marshall (JS!) need their own spinoff.