REVIEW: First-Time Director Josh Radnor Plays it Safe With happythankyoumoreplease
Radnor shows an assured hand with his cast, and rather than try to force a plot -- and a subplot, that TV device that assumes no one can concentrate on a single narrative -- the actor-director defines his film by the characters. Radnor himself plays Sam, a novelist who ends up bringing home Rasheen (Michael Algieri) after the little boy is left alone on the subway. He and Annie (Malin Akerman) act as each other's sounding boards and guardian angels. Annie instructs Sam on handling his love life, which includes chasing singer Mississippi (Kate Mara). And their friend Mary Catherine (Zoe Kazan) has to define her relationship with her boyfriend (Pablo Schreiber) as other complications begin to arise.
Radnor is an overprotective first-time director, and the final effect is like watching a film with elbow pads, a helmet and training wheels. Though it takes place in New York, the film could just as easily have been shot on the six blocks or so that passes for Manhattan north of the Santa Monica freeway where How I Met Your Mother is filmed. Intriguing, Radnor has assembled a group of actors with the widest, most brimming-with-expression anime eyes ever seen in a live-action film; it could be a real-life version of Pokemon. Writer/director/star Radnor takes care to lavish time on the actors, particularly playing out the travails of Annie, a cancer sufferer gingerly exploring romance after her treatments.
Happy doesn't have any of the awful contrived anxiety of subplots, where some spray-on imposture is about to revealed. Radnor shows a devotion to emotional detail -- the scenes with Kazan and Schreiber have the free flowing intensity of a one-act play, and the actors respond honestly to the characters' fears -- even as we can see he was just as determined not to take on too much for his maiden effort. But even though the storytelling is quite simple, he's solicitous of his cast.
Happythankyoumoreplease is slight, though it's not glib. Radnor had to realize by making a film about a group of New Yorkers the same age as the HIMYM cast, he'd open himself to comparisons to the mothership. Especially with the ingenuity sometimes displayed in the show's writing -- an HIMYM episode about Radnor's character having been in the singles' pool so long he completed the circle and ended up seeing someone he went on a first date with years earlier had more texture than most big-screen romantic comedies. Happythankyoumoreplease loves its characters -- as a filmmaker, Radnor is all heart. He's ready for bigger things.