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Film review: Cast of ‘Happy Endings’ is movie’s saving grace

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The unusual pairing of Maggie Gyllenhaal and Tom Arnold in "Happy Endings" works better than you'd think.

The unusual pairing of Maggie Gyllenhaal and Tom Arnold in “Happy Endings” works better than you’d think.

Eric Lee, Lions Gate Films

HAPPY ENDINGS — ** — Lisa Kudrow, Steve Coogan, Maggie Gyllenhaal; rated R (sex, profanity, vulgarity, drug use, violence, brief nudity, brief gore).

A movie shouldn't have to explain itself. But "Happy Endings" feels obliged to do so by throwing out an on-screen disclaimer that reads, "It's a comedy, sort of."

Screenwriter/director Don Roos' comedy-drama — a cousin to such films with multiple characters and intertwining stories as "Crash" and Robert Altman's "Short Cuts" — is filled with similar blurbs and printed asides that are more irksome and distracting than anything else.

It's as if Roos the filmmaker is also trying to serve as the film's narrator. But he wouldn't need to do that if the film weren't so overstuffed with characters and contrivances, only some of which work.

The central story line of "Happy Endings" involves Mamie (Lisa Kudrow), a counselor at a Planned Parenthood clinic who gave up her own child years ago, and aspiring documentary filmmaker Nicky (Jesse Bradford), who has shown up with questions for Mamie.

Mamie's stepbrother Charley (Steve Coogan) has similar issues. He's convinced that his best friends (Sarah Clarke and Laura Dern) are keeping a secret — one involving a child — from him and his partner (David Sutcliffe).

Meanwhile, one of Charley's employees (Jason Ritter) obviously has a crush on him. But that doesn't stop him from sleeping with his band's new lead singer (Maggie Gyllenhaal). However, she has her eye on Frank (Tom Arnold).

Roos still hasn't recaptured the pithy magic of his 1998 debut, "The Opposite of Sex," but at least the film is better than his leaden 2000 follow-up, "Bounce."

Some of his observations about family and parenthood do hit the target, but he goes a little overboard in pushing his obvious pro-gay agenda.

If the film has a saving grace, it's the cast. The unusual pairing of Gyllenhaal and Arnold works much better than you'd think — and not just because of her performance. Arnold is much better here than he has been in years.

"Happy Endings" is rated R for simulated sex, occasional use of strong sexual profanity, crude sexual talk and references (as well as some flatulence humor), drug content (marijuana use and some references), a brief scene of violence (an auto-pedestrian accident), brief female nudity, and some brief gore. Running time: 128 minutes.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com