TV-MA, for suggestive content and language. Honest to Pete, I think this is what teenagers think that adults talk like all the time. Just running their filthy mouths off all of the time. Okay, some adults talk like this, but the movie leans on the adolescent views of sex. Also, there's a lot of actual sex without the nudity. That makes it kind of okay. Wait, no it doesn't? Does it? I don't know anymore. WHERE IS MY MORAL COMPASS? Oh, that's right. Still heavily judgey. TV-MA.
DIRECTOR: Jared Stern
I don't want to lump wives together. It seems like I'm taking a potshot at an entire gender if I assume that all lives love rom-coms. My life loves rom-coms. It's not that I don't like rom-coms. Some of my male friends absolutely adore rom-coms. I seem to have a higher standard for rom-coms than other movies. I always want mine to be a little cynical. I tend to gravitate towards rom-coms that take the male perspective. Like, if the box is pink, there's a good chance that I don't really like it. Let's say that I'm a High Fidelity guy. My wife wanted to watch a rom-com and I force her to watch way too much pretentious nonsense or sci-fi mumbo jumbo. We run to Netflix and realized quickly that their rom-com section is desperately lacking. We see that Ben Schwartz is in a rom-com made by Netflix, which autoplays an actual trailer and we said, "That looks good." In terms of getting the job done, I guess we can say that we watched a rom-com. This isn't the movie that my wife was looking for and I didn't see any slam dunks here, but it was technically a rom-com. More importantly, after watching a seven hour French silent film, I was happy for a 78 minute movie.
The first thing we noticed --and this was almost immediate --was that this felt like a play. We don't think it is. If it was, a lot would be forgiven. This movie rests heavily on clever dialogue that seems like it is playing for the back of the house. I'm not saying a script can't support a movie. I still like Woody Allen movies, even if I don't necessarily like the man all that much. His scripts lean extremely heavily on the dialogue and often little else besides tame jazz. But Happy Anniversary almost feels like a senior thesis. It has all of the elements of storytelling there. There is a functional narrative. There are compelling characters. I love the fact that there are few characters and that we really get to know them by the end of the movie. Heck, the script is even funny. But the script also feels in no way realistic. The premise is really realistic. The movie is an examination of what happens when the obsession part of love ends and people have to think about if they truly love each other. Mind you, the two protagonists are way more awful than people I know in real life. (I think! If you know me in real life, way to have me fooled!) But no one talks like this. There's a fine line between Joss Whedon cleverness and what I'm really seeing here. I mentioned that this feels like a senior thesis. I'm sure that a college senior thinks that everyone talks like this. When I write, I tend to write characters like this because everyone is as clever as me and responds the way I want them to. The writer has to be convinced that his friends talk like this and I'm sure that there is a certain degree of truth in that. But this movie kind of feels like a quarantined environment from reality. There's the real world with people talking to each other in vulnerable conversations and then there is this movie. It's a bit of a shame because this movie really taps into what it means to be vulnerable throughout. This is a relationship on the verge of a breakup. There are a few times in the movie where both the characters and the audience is convinced that they are broken up. (In terms of the audience's awareness, I think we all knew that they would somehow interact again because it would be a real bummer of a movie if they didn't.) But these characters just live such a twee lifestyle. They are one continual meet-cute.
Lauren is often hard on female leads. I'm not saying all the time. But she often says, "I don't like her." Sometimes she has a reason. Sometimes she doesn't. It isn't my place to comment on that, but it is one of her traits and golly, I love her for it. But she had a reason. Apparently, Noel Wells, who plays Mollie, seems to be channeling Zooey Deschanel's Jessica Day from New Girl. That might be a thing that is becoming an archetype. She is this march-by-your-own-beat indie fun girl and that character is cool. I have no problem with that character being the female protagonist. In fact, I didn't really mind it all that much. I think this is me just discussing Lauren's thoughts on it. But Lauren does have a point. I've seen that character before and I've seen it done better. Also, there's a really weird selfishness behind this kind of character. Ben Schwartz's Sam has a lot of the same faults. His delivery is awesome because he's Ben Schwartz, but this movie might be really telling of an overall problem. This is a movie where the people in the story are often only considering their own happiness. I know, you can't make anyone else happy. But Mollie is almost looking for an out the entire movie. She knows that Sam hasn't done anything wrong, but she isn't happy. That's a real problem and thank God that a movie is analyzing it. But both characters are often just concerned with what they are feeling at all times. Sam has the stuff on his place. Mollie has the stuff on hers. We actually have a flashback at one point showing how they met. Sam is an inherently selfish human being. He shows his positive side when he is in a relationship with Mollie, but Mollie is attracted to a bad dude. There's a reason that these characters have hit this roadblock in their relationship. It's actually a much bigger obstacle than it should be because the two of them haven't been working to build each other up. They are always just concerned with the feelings of being in a relationship. One of the central themes that I adore is that relationships are tough, but Mollie is instantly ready to run away from this relationship when it gets tough. She's not married. She is allowed to leave. But she is looking for ways out of this commitment because she's already done the tough part of telling Sam that she is not happy. That's frustrating for me as a viewer. There needed to be a much deeper conversation than either of them was ready for, so instead the two sabotage what was already going on in the movie. They were angry because they wanted to be angry.
Like much of the movie, there are some amazing things that are going on that really need to be ironed out. The format of the movie is a chronological narrative that is constantly interrupted by flashbacks. Often, these flashbacks match what is going on in the chronological narrative tonally and that's actually cool. It reminds me of The Last Five Years, only not as creative and probably not as effective. (Sorry, Happy Anniversary. The Last Five Years really had its act together.) I love the idea that, in such a short span of time, we really got to see how the characters grew together. There's a bit of a cop out with one of these flashbacks though. There's a really cool image of the two of them sitting in a classic car, enjoying a malt inside an electronics store. If I was Stern, I would want this shot. It's almost iconic for the movie. It shows up in the trailer. But this location plays an important part in the overall plot and it is only introduced minutes before the resolution to this moment plays out. It's not absolutely vital to the plot, but I can tell that he wanted to get a lot more meat out of this sequence. That has to be a temptation for any director. There's this cool image in your head and you want to convey it. I have this opening for Hamlet that just rocks. But I also know it is absurd. The idea of fighting that instinct has to be a hard one. But I do like the flashback sequences over all. Where Stern succeeds, despite the fact that these characters don't really exist in reality, is the idea that they are three dimensional characters. I said that they are awful people and I kind of stick by that. But they do grow and develop. I suppose that is what we should be seeing: growth. I don't know if Stern really gets them to where they need to be by the end. There's this great ambiguous moment that I absolutely dig as a metaphor. I won't spoil it, but I like the idea of that last moment being very representative of the relationship. It's a shame that I don't really know if they are going to make it. I know, they aren't married. They should have been at least engaged by this point, but that's a whole 'nother thing. But Happy Anniversary is kind of typical of a rom-com in the world where people don't fight for relationships. The natural instinct in both characters' perspectives is to cut and run upon seeing the first fault. It's a bit of a bummer, but that might be the most real thing in the whole story.
For people who love rom-coms, this might not be the movie for you. It is horribly bleak at times. It does feel more grounded in terms of theme than most rom-coms. It's odd that this might be the most realistic premise for a romantic comedy, but often feels the most artificial because of the somewhat artificial dialogue. Regardless, I had a B- time. I'm not instituting a ratings system. I just kind of liked it a little.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.