Knight at the Movies ARCHIVES
LA Ennui :
Happy Endings, Electric Edwardians and two notable Chicago area film events
7-14-05 Knight at the Movies column
By Richard Knight, Jr.
Gay writer-director Don Roos has a creative tic that I like very much. He creates characters whose lives and
intertwining relationships are so complicated he needs to use flash cards to keep audiences on track. In his blissful
black comedy, 1998’s The Opposite of Sex, a voice over commentary track by the leading character provided the
narrative while in the darker but richly textured Happy Endings, his new release, he resorts to actual title
cards on the screen. It’s a straight forward acknowledgement from Roos that audiences have short attention spans
and characters with THIS much back story are going to need immediate sorting if they’re to resonate. Even
without the often witty Cliff Notes as a guide, however, Happy Endings would be well worth the effort. It’s a
lovely, complex film.
Happy Endings weaves together the stories of multiple characters – gay, straight and somewhere in between –
and their changing relationships. We’re in sunny L.A. but it’s the unforgiving sunlight of Altman’s Short Cuts and
P. T. Anderson’s Magnolia and no one escapes unscathed. But like Anderson’s first movie, Boogie Nights, Roos
can't resist finding some happiness for his misguided characters out of rather psychologically tough circumstances.
He also mines laughs out of the characters eccentricities and I laughed throughout the movie. In Happy Endings,
Roos has created a gallery in which the younger characters (for the most part) are cynical, cagey and tough while
the older ones, though emotionally scarred, are still hopeful and naïve. Wandering throughout the emotional
landmine of the ten stories that Roos tells (there are subplots upon subplots) is an exceptional cast headed by Lisa
Kudrow. Jesse Bradford, Maggie Gyllenhaal and (surprise surprise) Tom Arnold are also standouts.
As a writer Roos is not afraid to put difficult, cranky people on the screen and with Kudrow, who had her best
screen role is The Opposite of Sex, he has found his muse. She plays Mamie, a deeply conflicted woman who has
never come to terms with giving up a baby from a teenage pregnancy. Mamie becomes involved with a sleazy
amateur documentary filmmaker Nicky (Bradford) in order to find out the whereabouts of her grown up son.
Meanwhile, Mamie’s step-brother Charley (Steve Coogan), who unknowingly fathered the baby, has turned gay.
He’s convinced that his partner Gil (David Sutcliffe) is the biological father of the baby of lesbian couple Pam and
Diane (Laura Dern and Sarah Clarke) though they claim otherwise. At the same time, a busboy at Charley’s
restaurant, Otis (Jason Ritter), is secretly lusting after him while the temporary lead singer of Otis’s band, Jude
(Gyllenhaal) is acting as a beard for Otis and plotting to have an affair with his divorced, susceptible father Frank
(Arnold). Then things get REALLY complicated.
By its conclusion, the intricate, funny and lyrical, Happy Endings has earned its title.
Film Screening of Note: Unseen for 100 years, the documentary short films of Sagar Mitchell and James
Kenyon, collected under the title Electric Edwardians, are fascinating. These amazing records of street life in
north England, shot by the duo between 1901 and 1905, offer a mesmerizing glimpse into the past. Edwardians of
all classes (but all wearing hats) are seen entering and leaving work through the gates of factories and mines
(children included), at play on the soccer or cricket field, and most memorably, slowly promenading at the
seashore. Then as now, some people are drawn to the movie camera and mug while others quickly scurry by. The
silent films, loosely grouped by category, are accompanied by a beautiful score written and played by the ensemble
The Nursery that adds an underlying tone of wistfulness to these breathtaking artifacts. Electric Edwardians plays
Saturday, July 16, Tuesday and Wednesday, July 19-20 at the Gene Siskel Film Center. www.siskelfilmcenter.org
Chicago Outdoor Film Festival Line-Up: The 6th annual Chicago Outdoor Film Festival held each Tuesday
evening at sundown at Butler Field in Grant Park kicked off last night with a screening of Citizen Kane. That
selection and the rest of this year’s offerings were chosen by the most famous of film critics, Roger Ebert (who
was honored by the Mayor, who dubbed yesterday “Roger Ebert Day”). Though I’m as big a fan of the Orson
Welles masterpiece as the next film critic, Kane isn’t a movie I’d want to watch while sitting on a blanket and
sharing a picnic with friends or my sweetie.
I’m also leery of next week’s choice, the dialogue heavy Annie Hall, translating well to the cavernous Grant Park
setting. Woody Allen isn’t exactly a visual director. But Ebert’s on the nose with John Ford’s classic western, My
Darling Clementine (July 26) and Robert Rossen’s moody story of pool shark “Fast Eddie” Felson aka The Hustler
(August 16). Ebert has also smartly chosen two great crowd pleasers: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (August 2) and
Star Wars (August 23) which is sure to close the fest with a big bang. My favorite choice, however, (and I’ll write
about it in-depth in an upcoming column) is The Night of the Hunter (August 9). This tale of a serial killer
disguised as a preacher (Robert Mitchum at his malevolent best) in search of stolen money was the only film
directed by closeted gay actor Charles Laughton. It’s an inspired choice for the Grant Park setting and I’ll be
staking out my lawn space early that night. Further information on the festival (which is free to the public) at 312-
Shirley MacLaine to be Honored: Bona-fide screen legend Shirley MacLaine will be feted by the Chicago
International Film Festival’s at their black tie summer gala this Saturday, July 16, at the Sheraton Chicago. The
evening to honor the Oscar winning actress, highlighted by clips and tributes from colleagues and friends, kicks off
the Fest’s 41st season. MacLaine is currently onscreen in Bewitched and can be seen this fall co-starring with
Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette in the dramedy In Her Shoes. A longtime supporter and friend of the gay
community, MacLaine took on the (then) risky role of latent lesbian Martha Dobie in 1961’s The Children’s Hour,
co-starring with Audrey Hepburn. She later discussed the film and its impact with great insight in the documentary
The Celluloid Closet. www.chicagofilmfestival.org
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