When I saw Josh Radnor's HappyThankYouMorePlease at Sundance in 2010, I wrote that it was "a hit-and-miss romantic comedy, a little too eager to please but not without its charms."
Radnor, the star of TV's How I Met Your Mother, wrote and directed this romantic comedy, which has the feel but not the quirks of films such as (500) Days of Summer and Garden State: tales of clueless guys trying to get in touch with their own flaws so that they might actually be right for the woman they're drawn to.
Radnor is ambitious in his attempt to interlock a trio of such stories. One deals with his own character, a would-be writer named Sam who meets a would-be singer named Mississippi (Kate Mara) and successfully beds her - then flinches at the idea of commitment and nearly loses her.
There's also a plotline involving Zoe Kazan and Pablo Schreiber, as a loving couple who find themselves pulled to the brink of dissolution by both their constant need to discuss every feeling they have and the pull of career opportunities that attracts one of them to a job on the West Coast. (The film is set in Manhattan - a very clean, friendly, almost deliberately Woody Allen-ish Manhattan.)
The final story follows Sam's friend, Annie (Malin Akerman), who has alopecia (loss of all body hair) and who seems to be a magnet for unsuitable men. But when a guy who really is interested in her (played by the delicious Tony Hale) - but who doesn't look the way she expects the man of her dreams to look - she finally gives in and takes a chance, even though she's written him off in her mind.
The wild card here is Rasheen (Michael Algieri), a child that Sam sees on the subway and, eventually, realizes is lost. He winds up taking him home, but can't elicit any information from him about where he belongs. The kid ends up living with him for a while, until Sam finally figures out that he can't just keep a kid without trying to find his home or his guardian.
Radnor understands the structure of jokes and comes up with some good lines. On the other hand, the joke reflex doesn't always yield strong material. So while he's offering gags, they aren't always good ones.
As noted, the film also suffers from a storyline - the Kazan-Schreiber thread - that simply feels whiny and pointless. You lose interest in this pair early on, then have to endure their subsequent scenes. They feel like filler, rather than like a resonant and effective part of a storyline about Millennials looking for love in the big wide world.
Still, Radnor has a nice, offbeat delivery - part deadpan, part put-upon, part snide. And Mara complements his rhythm as the wary woman who is ready to open up to him.
Akerman, meanwhile, is very funny as the loser-at-love woman who would rather be with a great-looking guy who ignores her than an average schmo who actually cares what she thinks.
But the Kazan-Schreiber scenes drag the film down, halting its rhythm so that, each time Radnor leaves them, he has to jump-start the film's energy all over. Eventually, he just can't get over the hurdle.
Still, in many ways, HappyThankYouMorePlease is a self-assured film, one that's about half enjoyable. That's a better batting average than a lot of movies; it's only disappointing when you consider how much better it might have been.