Film Review: The Happy Sad

An intriguing urban subject is completely done in by a dreary, banal script, making you wonder why we should care about these wannabe hipsters.

Open relationships form the heart of The Happy Sad, with two couples trying to come to terms with the whole concept of polygamy in an ever carnally tempting New York. Aaron (Charlie Barnett) and Marcus (LeRoy McClain) are black and Annie (Sorel Carradine) and Stan (Cameron Scoggins) are white, but the tensions they encounter feel awfully similar. Annie and Marcus are the adventurous ones in the relationships, while Aaron and Stan are much less so. Things start to pop when the furtively bisexual Stan hooks up with Marcus on the Internet, while Annie dabbles in a lesbian affair with a co-worker (Maria Dizzia).

The Happy Sad is based on a play by Ken Urban, who also did the screen adaptation, and its stage origins are all too apparent in the static, talky nature of the film’s exposition, as well as the all-too convenient device of both Annie and Stan being closet bisexuals. Meanwhile, Aaron and Marcus don’t seem in any way particularly black, but are just as querulously bland and colorless as the other couple, even if they’re gay and out. Urban’s exploration of urban promiscuity recalls those romantic roundelays Arthur Schnitzler loved to pen, but his writing is devoid of the biting wit and observation of his Viennese predecessor. Schnitzler was a supreme example of the so-called “Continental touch,” aerating his often glib concepts with satiric humor and elegant behavior. Urban seems to spring more from the school of Williamsburg Mumblecore, and the boudoir conversations between these various lovers, often in a post-coital state, are often wincingly banal. And, like that other modern explorer of sexual adventurousness, Pedro Almodóvar, Urban likes to throw a lot of coincidences into his creative pot; a scene in which the four protagonists meet “by accident” at a train stop totally defies audience belief and patience.

None of the actors, with the possible exception of Dizzia, is able to rise above the mire of Urban and equally guilty director Rodney Evans’ bad ideas, with Carradine being particularly noxious. The movie skids to an early, and then continual, dead halt whenever supposed musician Scoggins bleats some God-awful, self-penned songs, fronting his hapless emo band. He positively defines “chilled white whine,” and as this weren’t bad enough, the filmmakers additionally throw in an intentionally terrible stand-up comedian with whom Annie goes on a disastrous, meant-to-be-hilarious blind date. The only problem is that the guy’s flailingly unsuccessful punch lines are on a total par with much of the seriously bad dialogue given the protagonists. Sadly, the name of this film’s production company, Miasma, seems all too appropriate.