Monday, July 20, 2009

Happy Thank You More Please

Genre: Indie Drama
Premise: This coming-of-age tale follows six lives in modern day New York, highlighted by a 20-something aspiring novelist who accidentally adopts a 6 year old African American child.
About: Made the 2007 Black List with 3 votes, though I suspect it would've been much higher had more people read it. Radnor plays Ted Mosby on the sometimes hilarious sometimes average "How I Met Your Mother." With a cast of highly talented multi-taskers (Neil Patrick Harris is hosting the Emmys. Jason Seagal wrote and starred in Forgetting Sarah Marshall), Radnor obviously had to do something big to stand out. Writing, directing and starring in his own movie was the only way he could trump his castmates. Malin Ackerman and Kate Mara will co-star.
Writer: Josh Radnor

Take that Doogie.

Wow. I cannot stress how shocked I was when I finished this script, dug around, and found out that Ted Mosby wrote it. I was so convinced that there were two Josh Radnor's, a writer and an actor, that I kept surfing the internet for half an hour convinced that there had to be a mix-up or some bad information. I'm still not entirely sure, as IMDB doesn't even list the movie. It's not that I don't think someone from a sitcom can be that talented in another trade but...Actually, yes, that is what I think. Writing takes time. Getting good enough to compete with the awesome pool of talent at this level takes dedication. To write one of the top 15 scripts of the year, out of a sea of 50, have to be dedicated to your craft. That Radnor belted this out in between spit takes with the flute girl from American Pie has my head spinning.

Obviously there's some untapped pool of talent in goofy affable sitcom leads. Following the Zach Braff model, Radnor wrote his script and got a hot female star attached (Ackerman). Then he got funding with him attached as both actor and star. The big difference between Braff and Radnor though - who could easily pass as brothers - is that Radnor can really write. While Braff did a great job on the acting and directing front in Garden State, the script itself wandered too much. I am so convinced of Radnor's talents after reading this that I'm willing to bet he was a writer long before he was an actor. There's too much confidence in his unique snapshot of New York City. From the characters to the stories to the dialogue (which came off just as electric as it did realistic) , we've been introduced to a story not quite like any other in a city that's been around for 300 years.

In the spirit of full disclosure, it should be noted that I'm a sucker for coming-of-age films. I've said it before and I'll say it again. But I'm also the first to admit that there's nothing worse than a coming-of-age film gone bad. Characters are complaining about their troubled suburban childhoods. Mommy and Daddy don't love me. What do I do with my life? When the amount of whine starts competing with Napa Valley, these screenplays can be like a bad night out at the Roxy. But while Radnor laments, he never dwells. His story moves at a brisk pace for a character piece. He knows when to chug along, when to slow down, and when to check in on the other characters.

Sam is in his late 20s, living in New York, rolling through girls like Big Macs, trying to become a novelist but not really caring if he succeeds or not. Although Sam won't admit it to himself, he's lonely. And his inability to come to terms with that is what drives his actions. Sam's best friend is the beautiful Annie. Annie has a condition called Alopecia Universales, which doesn't allow her to grow hair on her body. I know, I know. This has cringe-inducing written all over it but I'm telling you, Radnor knows what he's doing. There are a few times when Annie breaks down about her condition, but the condition is more symbolic if anything. Annie feels just like a lot of people - inadequate, not good enough. But she maintains a positive spirit through it all, and is one of the most *real* characters I've read in a long time.

Malin Ackerman will play the potentially award-winning role of Annie

Rounding out the group of friends are the fiery Mary-Catherine and Charlie, two New Yorkers who fight just as much as they get along. Charlie has been offered the job of a lifetime in LA but Mary-Catherine would rather cook her face in a microwave than move to that soulless concrete wasteland. Even though the two are probably the most "normal" characters in the bunch, the exploration of their problems is so universal that their story is just as compelling as the others.

So on his way to his first book deal, Sam observes a small black child amongst his mother, brothers and sisters on the subway. When the family leaves though, the boy, Rasheen, deliberately stays behind. Sam, feeling like he should do something, tries to take the kid to the police but Rasheen refuses to go (later we find out he's been in a number of foster homes and has been repeatedly abused). So Sam (naturally) takes Rasheen to his book deal meeting, and (naturally) the publishing people are a little confused as to why their new author is escorting around a small black child. Each time Sam tries to get rid of Rasheen, something comes up that prevents him from doing so, and before he knows it, he really starts to like the kid. So hours turn into more hours. More hours turn into days. Without even realizing it, Sam has unofficially adopted Rasheen. Which is just crazy. But I'm telling you. Radnor makes it believable.

Complicating matters is that Sam also meets the stunningly beautiful Mississippi, an aspiring singer who's trying to pick up the pieces of her life. When she won't buy into Sam's one-night stand proposal, in order to get her to have sex with him, he proposes a "three-night stand." The keys to his apartment, come in and out at any time, and they'll be a couple for three days. The idea is so absurd and Sam is so charming, she goes along with it. Of course after the alcohol's worn off the next morning, Sam can't believe what he's done. And when Mississippi finds out that Rasheen is living with him, all hell breaks loose. When she hears of the abuse though, she softens a little. And all of a sudden Sam has gone from single man on the street, to having his own quasi-family.

Kate mara will play the gorgeous Mississippi

Although there are a lot of great things about "Happy Thank You More Please," the thing that gives it an edge over a lot of similar films is how Rasheen fits into the story. What Sam is essentially doing is kidnapping a child. And the longer he waits around doing nothing, the more trouble he's going to be in when the authorities find out. So with each passing day, we become more and more anxious as we're fearing for Sam. Yet at the same time, we don't want Rasheen to go back to that horrible life he was a part of. Basically we're freaking out inside going, "What the hell is he going to do??" It makes us forget that there really isn't an overarching plot driving the story (though it was clever of Radnor to use the "3 Day Stand" device, as it gives the story an unofficial time frame).

"More please" perfectly captures the feeling of people living cramped together in this absurd but wonderful city, bumping into and bouncing off of each other - affecting each other's lives in ways they don't even know. The theme of "growing up" is present on every page and it's something I, and I imagine a lot of you, identify with. As artists, we grow up with the rest of the world looking down on us and thinking we're crazy for not, in their minds, "growing up." And I think Radnor paints a fair balanced assessment of this phenomenon.

The only question mark with the film is, should Josh Radnor play the lead? His default happy-go-lucky smirk doesn't exactly lend itself to Sam's harsh and sometimes abrasive behavior. Sam's got weight. You need an actor who can express that. Of course, none of us have seen Radnor's acting outside of yukking it up with Robin Chibotski, so who knows? He could very well be the next Dustin Hoffman. But in a project that's so strong on so many levels, Mr. Mosby better know what he's doing, because if done right, this has the potential to be today's Graduate. "Happy Thank You More Please" breaks into my Top 25.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest

[ ] worth the read

[x] impressive

[ ] genius

What I learned: Parentheticals. The literary world has become more forgiving of parantehticals. Some people hate them but I love them. When you have a guy saying to a girl, "You look hot tonight," having the girl's response be "Thanks, I guess," changes quite a bit when you add the parenthetical "(not uncharmed)" right before it. With sarcasm and irony and people constantly saying one thing but meaning another, the parenthetical can ease a lot of the confusion.