08th Oct2013

‘Happy Endings’ Review

by Chris Cummings

Stars: Zooey Deschanel, Will Ferrell, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan | Written and Directed by Adam Rapp


Happy Endings is a strange one because it isn’t a “new” film, it was originally released back in 2005 under the title of “Winter Passing” and this is a re-titled re-release from Signature Entertainment. Zooey Deschanel (New Girl, 500 Days of Summer), Will Ferrell (Anchorman) and Ed Harris (The Abyss) are the names that sell this film, which is written and directed by Adam Rapp (Blackbird).

At its heart, this is an independent drama that relies heavily on the characters and the story. The story follows Reese (Deschanel), an actress who is approached by an editor (Madigan) and offered a lot of money to get publication of the love letters that Reese’s recluse novelist father wrote to her mother. Reese’s mother has since passed away and so the decision to publish these letters lies with Reese herself, and she isn’t exactly the most stable or amicable girl. The story then follows Reese and her relationship with her father as well as the people who live with him, Corbit, a helper and friend, as well as Shelly, a young former student of Reese’s father, Don.

It’s a fairly straight forward premise that at the core deals with emotional issues and relationships. The character of Reese is a layered one and you find that there is more to her than an angry and irritable exterior allows us early on. Zooey Deschanel’s performance deserves a lot of credit here, she shows range and a wonderful ability to show emotion without seeming too dramatic or exaggerated about things. Will Ferrell’s portrayal of Corbit is a nice change of pace from the usual farcical and over-energised Ferrell performances (although we do see familiar glimpses of his comedy work), allowing him to show a different side to his talents. Ed Harris plays Reese’s father, Don, and his subtle portrayal of a secluded writer who refuses to deal with his personal demons is accomplished.

Adam Rapp shows a knack for allowing his subjects to show flaws, making them appear much more human than your regular emotional drama film permits. The camera focuses on showing the grey areas and the dark spots on even more occasions than the good ones, making the happy moments more poignant and effective. There are some bursts of humour in here too that allow the viewer some respite from the gloom that often exists on screen. The slow and acoustic guitar/piano-heavy score fits wonderfully with the autumnal and murky look and feel of the film, and there are some truly emotional and moving moments that allow us answers to many ponderings of what might have happened in the past with these characters.

There are a couple of odd writing choices in here though, including a moment with a cat that I won’t go into, but it seemed an uncharacteristic and strange choice on the film-maker’s part. The writer and director also makes brave, or some might say questionable, choices at times with the decisions that some of the characters make. The film is heavy on dialogue which sometimes hinders the viewer from identifying wholly with the characters, though at times it can be said that the dialogue also provides reason to do just the opposite.

Happy Endings is an enjoyable independent drama with a variety of first-rate performances from its cast, and though it isn’t perfect it still offers a look at relationships that refuses to be “all sunshine and roses”. It’s re-release is confusing but I would imagine it’s because of the recent fame of Zooey Deschanel, and I’m happy it got one because otherwise I might have missed out on seeing it.

Happy Endings is available on DVD now, through Signature Entertainment.


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