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Originally published Friday, July 15, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

Director back on track with dark, layered comedy

Making a terrific film as your first feature can be a blessing and a curse — and for writer/director Don Roos, whose caustic, funny...

Seattle Times movie critic

Making a terrific film as your first feature can be a blessing and a curse — and for writer/director Don Roos, whose caustic, funny directing debut "The Opposite of Sex" came seven years ago, it's been both.

Roos' second feature, the uneven romance "Bounce," was greeted with a resounding chorus of Not As Good As "The Opposite of Sex," Not Even Close. Is it any wonder that it took five years for him to return with his third film, "Happy Endings"? And that every review — including this one — will likely mention "The Opposite of Sex" before it mentions the new movie?

But there's good news here — for Roos, and for us. Though "Happy Endings" won't make anyone forget "The Opposite of Sex," it puts Roos back on track. The new film, an intricate ensemble comedy about sex, lies and reproduction, has some messy spots, but overall it's a warm, quirky story about people who seem spiky and real.

And it showcases a lovely performance by Lisa Kudrow, who hasn't been this good on screen since ... well, "The Opposite of Sex," which I promise not to mention again in this review.

Movie review 3 stars


Showtimes and trailer

"Happy Endings," with Tom Arnold, Jesse Bradford, Bobby Cannavale, Sarah Clarke, Steve Coogan, Laura Dern, Lisa Kudrow, Jason Ritter, Maggie Gyllenhaal. Written and directed by Don Roos. 130 minutes. Rated R for sexual content, language and some drug use. Guild 45th.

Kudrow plays Mamie, who's haunted by a secret (and a lie) in her past: As a teenager, she had sex with her stepbrother, which resulted in a child given up for adoption. Nobody knows about this, or so Mamie thinks — until she finds herself blackmailed by a low-rent documentary filmmaker, Nicky (Jesse Bradford), who wants to make a movie about the mother-child reunion.

From this main story, other subplots shoot out like branches on a tree: a golddigging drifter (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who sets her sights first on a wealthy young man (Jason Ritter) and then on his father (Tom Arnold); two gay couples (one of which includes Mamie's stepbrother) arguing over a child's paternity; and a massage therapist (Bobby Cannavale) delighted to star in a movie of his own.

The stories are skillfully interwoven, touching on difficult issues (the film's stance on abortion, for example, dances very delicately with controversy) and keeping the audience intrigued by this group of troubled but vivid people.

Gyllenhaal steals all her scenes as Jude, an irresistibly smooth operator with a heart of brass. Her triumphant smile, as she swims in her rich lover's pool, shines deliciously: She's won, and she knows it, not caring what the consequences might be.

Kudrow, wearing harsh makeup and looking worlds away from her "Friends" character, plays a very different character: Mamie's not particularly likable, and Kudrow isn't afraid to give a performance that's prickly and a little off-putting.

"You're one of those women who like their secrets," Nicky told her, and it's true: Mamie hugs her life close to her chest, revealing little, trusting less. When Mamie and Jude finally meet, it's a clash of opposites and a beautifully played scene, setting the stage for an unlikely — but very welcome — series of happy endings.

And the film contains another character who has no name: the sensibility of its narrator, who appears not in voice-over (as Cristina Ricci did in ... um, Roos' other movie) but in title cards that slyly invade the film, sliding on and off screen from the side as if sidling up to us, commenting on the action.

It's a tricky device and it doesn't always work — sometimes it tells us things that it might be more effective to have the actors convey. But it adds a playful quality to an otherwise dark comedy, and another layer to an already rich mixture.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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