If you called up Central Casting and requested that they send over an independent romantic comedy, Happythankyoumoreplease would be top of the stack. That’s not to say that it’s a perfect example of an indie rom-com, it’s that it represents perfectly what a pre-conceived notion of the simplest stereotype would be. The film revolves around three different almost-thirty New Yorkers and their varying romantic entanglements. In that respect, it’s kind of pedestrian, but then it’s tagged with quirk like Banksy on a bender. One girl’s got alopecia and wears a headwrap, one guy “accidentally” abducts a small black child and tries to raise him, everyone’s managing to rent apartments in New York on the salary of a job represented by artistic endeavors. It’s Woody Allen by way of Seinfeld with inexplicably coupled couples breaking into crazy indie film riffs in between make-out sessions. It’s a strange film, and it wouldn’t work if not for the incandescent charm of most of the cast, in particular writer-director-star Josh Radnor. Josh Radnor is the filmmaker John Krasinski meant to be, peopling his movie with interesting-looking folks and managing to rein in his overwhelming quirkiness with occasional sweetness. The film barely holds together as it is, but somehow Radnor keeps everything together for a somewhat intriguing romantic comedy.
On paper, the general intertwining of the three major throughlines makes you kind of want to punch Josh Radnor in the ironic T-shirt slogan until he coughs dark red. The main story revolves around Sam (Josh Radnor, Ted of “How I Met Your Mother”), a freelancer writer whose novel is rejected by most publishing houses for being too “kinda.” Sam’s best friend is Annie (Malin Akerman), who works in philanthropic giving at a large trust firm and throw an awareness party for her alopecia. Sam’s also got a pseudo-cousin — their parents were best friends and thus they’re like family — named Mary Catherine (Zoe Kazan), who works in an art supply store.
Sam is enamored with a waitress at a local watering hole named … oh, please forgive me for having to type this fucking name out … Mississippi (Kate Mara, 127 Hours). Because that’s where she’s from. On his way to a publisher’s meeting with the dad from “Six Feet Under,” he notices a small black child left behind on a subway (newcomer Michael Algieri). He takes control, trying to take the child to the authorities, but the kid doesn’t want to go home. He turns out to be a foster child named Rasheen who ends up doodling extremely deftly. So instead of taking him to the cops or finding his mother, Sam decides to take him in and keep him like a stray dog. Meanwhile, he strikes up a conversation with Mississippi, who turns out to be a musician. Sam insists that he will never go to see her sing, because if she’s terrible, he’ll be too heartbroken to date her anymore. They go home, but instead of having a one night stand, he tells her to move in for three days so they can have a three night stand. He gives her keys and writes up a contract and everything.
But wait, there’s more.
Annie has alopecia. Malin Akerman’s already looks like someone took Kate Hudson and pulled her taut, but with no hair or eyebrows, she looks even more like something you’d fuck in outerspace. The alopecia element is so goddamn bizarre — as it has no overarching effect on the overall plot, except maybe to explain why she does philanthropy? Anyway, she’s constantly falling in and out of terrible relationships with guys with bad hair who are jerks. A lawyer at her office, also named Sam (Tony Hale, Buster from “Arrested Development”), clicks candid photos of her and generally puppydogs around her in an effort to get her date him. But she’s not attracted to him. So the bald girl doesn’t want the bald man. Serenity NOW!
If that’s the “Seinfeld” bit, the Mary Catherine wing of the chicken is straight up Woody Allen. Mary Catherine’s boyfriend Charles (Pablo Schreiber, Nick Sobotka on “The Wire”) is involved in some kind of producer-type deal with a friend in Los Angeles. He wants the two of them to move out west at the end of the month. They have lots of strange, quirky little quibbles about New York/Los Angeles and ironic T-shirt slogans. They also have giant quirky little quibbles over pregnancies and marriage proposals.
Like I said, on paper, these disparaging elements are so fucking derivative and ridiculous, you kind of throw up a little in your mouth. Rage throw-up. But Radnor charms and wheedles his way through these fucking ridiculous moments. He doesn’t just make them throwaway qualms, but cleverly uses each bit to mesh his full story together. Mary Catherine doesn’t seem to fit into the overall story, but with the kid’s art-talent, and a later meeting between Charlie and Sam, it plays through. Sam #2 is a lawyer which helps out later when Sam’s good-hearted kidnapping finally bites him in the ass, which also affects the future of Sam and Mississippi. It’s so over-the-top stupid, and yet it pays off, and I’ve read stupider and more contrived plot moves in similar novels and films.
The other benefit is his cast. I’ve got a overwhelming and unfathomable infatuation with Zoe Kazan as much as I can’t stand-ya Malin Akerman and my through nonplussed reaction to Kate Mara. Equally, I feel that your reaction to their performances would be based entirely on how you feel about them as actresses. I hated Pablo Schreiber in the beginning — mostly it was his awful sheep mop hairdo — but he grew on me throughout until I loved him. Josh Radnor makes me understand why people would still be watching a show about a guy meeting his future wife for 17 seasons. He’s got this sort of scruffy, coastal charm in the same manner as the clean-cut, Midwestern charm of John Krasinski. And Tony Hale will make you realize just how fucking amazing his performance as Buster Bluth was when you see how goony charming he is in the film. Every time you hear an argument for how an unattractive man can possibly net a beautiful woman, I will now point out his character in this film, and your argument will go up in smoke that will get in your lungs and kill you if you open your mouth to refute it. Game. Set. Match. Suck it.
In the grand canon of rom-com, I don’t think Happythankyoumoreplease is going to blow you away. The speechifying totally feels like speechifying, almost like the Kahlil Gibran by way of Kevin Smith, and the setups are so fucking convenient, but goddamn if there just isn’t something about the film that makes you smile. There are just barely enough moments of pure sweet charm that you forgive the crappy moments. Just as you are falling out of the film, or drowning in the indie rock sap soundtrack — keening songstress/songmeisters over piano or acoustic guitar — there’s a click moment and you’re wryly chuckling. Had the wind blown a little differently, I could see myself bashing the everloving fuck out of this film and it’s unrealistic portrayal of romance and life in the sunset of the twenties, but Radnor won me over. I just hope he doesn’t turn Braff in his sophomore effort.