A group of movie-loving Austin NextTribers met to see the new release My Happy Ending. None of us had heard much about the film, and the trailer didn’t seem like the performances would give Cate Blanchett or Michelle Yeoh much to worry about during Oscar season.
Andie MacDowell, she of the perfect crown of cascading curls, plays Julia Roth, a movie star of a “certain age” who has recently been diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer, but somehow didn’t pay attention to the treatment plan outlined by her doctor.
[Her character] is a well-known American actress who is laying low in a small hospital in England in order to start chemotherapy and avoid the tabloids.
Julia is a well-known American actress who is laying low in a small hospital in England in order to start chemotherapy and avoid the tabloids. Several references to her fading film career and a recent stage flop in the West End indicate she hasn’t had a hit in many years.
She skulks in wearing dark glasses, but quickly tries to throw her celebrity weight around by requiring non-disclosure agreements from the other patients and demanding a private room where none exist. The three other women patients in the room laugh amongst themselves when they watch her flailing around, but they ultimately form a circle of support around her when they see how afraid she is.
Bring on Dr. Handsome
I found the cast of top-notch British actors (especially BAFTA winner Miriam Margoles playing a bitterly acerbic four-time cancer survivor) infinitely watchable. Welsh actor Thomas Cullen plays Dr. Handsome (err, Hanson), bringing a little necessary sex appeal to the story and a bit of medical dialogue as well. Award-winning Tamsin Greig, who plays Julia’s much-abused and under-appreciated friend, totally nailed the obnoxious, stereotypical pushy Hollywood manager. I was pleasantly surprised to find out she, too, is a Brit.
The four women patients deal with their pain and nausea with fantasy escapism scenarios.
The heart of the film should be when the four women patients circle together and deal with their pain and nausea with fantasy escapism scenarios. These imaginary mind-trips are the most entertaining part of the film, revealing each character’s inner desires, but here, too, they are a little anemic.
Chemo? Or Keep the Hair?
Over drinks afterwards, a few of us remarked that the condensed timeline as well as single location made the film feel a bit like a stage play.
It turns out we were on to something. The film is based on a stage play by Israeli writer Anat Gov, who died in 2012. Directed by the award-winning team of Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon, the film is an Israeli-British co-production. In 2014, the team directed The Farewell Party, a film that deals with euthanasia in a somewhat humorous way, using comedians as actors. It was based on their real experience with a friend’s death, depicting the friendship and support of her inner circle.
Andie MacDowell is likable even while playing a supposedly insufferable character.
In My Happy Ending, we see Julia struggle with her decision to choose between recommended chemo treatment and the ability to live whatever life she has left on her own terms. The petty viewer in me couldn’t help but wonder if vanity was part of her character’s struggle. The possibility of losing her luscious locks and lovely looks seemed to give her pause, especially while surrounded by “egghead” patients.
Andie MacDowell is likable even while playing a supposedly insufferable character, and perhaps part of the problem with the film is that her range is a bit limited, and the underwritten dialogue leaves you unable to fully understand or emotionally connect with her real motivations.
At just under 90 minutes, the film felt too short and not quite fulfilling. I would love to hear from a friend who has gone through chemo to confirm if any of the relationships between patients and patients and doctors seem at all realistic.
While it’s always enjoyable to sit in a dark theater with my NextTribe buds and a box of popcorn, I wish there had been more to chew on afterward! But my takeaway was . . . we should all be so lucky to have a group of women to love and support us when life throws you a terrifying diagnosis.