On the surface, NOT ANOTHER HAPPY ENDING has the makings of the kind of film I tend to love. A British (specifically, it’s shot and set in Glasgow) dramedy with quirky characters in crisis with an indie soundtrack. But from the off, it’s trying far too hard, and just doesn’t deliver.
Jane Lockhart (Karen Gillan) is a novelist waiting anxiously for her big break. After years of trying and an entire fridge door covered with rejection letters, a similarly struggling publisher Tom Duval (Stanley Weber) sees that she has potential, and secures the release of her debut book, a semi-autobiographical weepie about a difficult father-daughter relationship. Happy Ending, as it is titled (much to Jane’s chagrin), is a smash hit, and makes Jane a household name overnight. Jane’s life is finally on track, and she is overjoyed. Tom wants to get another novel out of her as soon as possible, but Jane becomes overwhelmed and develops writer’s block, and Tom decides he must make her miserable to get her creative juices flowing again.
Gillan’s protagonist Jane dresses exactly like Diane Keaton in ANNIE HALL, unwisely inviting comparisons to a far superior film about middle-class, city-dwelling intelligentsia. Stanley Weber playing Tom is seemingly unable to emote, except for a scene late on in the film where he has a brush with hypothermia, so we know he can act cold at least. He also has a very irritating, inconsistent accent that comes from a late re-write to explain his French origins – why couldn’t he just act French, rather than trying to be French-Scottish? Gillan has zero chemistry with Weber, which is fatal for what is supposed to be a love story, especially one that suggests it is her infatuation with this man that is causing her exasperating writer’s block.
Several important moments in the story are rushed through like a soap opera highlights package. Jane’s reconnection with her estranged dad (Gary Lewis), and her relationship with Tom that grows out of them talking through, editing and streamlining her writing, could both have used more screen-time, but mostly we’re just asked to fill in what is said for ourselves while we watch a dull montage with the dialogue level dipped and some pop music playing over the top. I understand doing this if you’re struggling for time, or if you know the characters well enough to be able to have an educated guess about what they’re saying, but here it just smacks of the writer David Solomons not wanting to put the effort in to write the dialogue for these scenes. Why should we care about these characters’ relationship with each other if the filmmakers can’t be bothered to dedicate the appropriate time and focus to explore them?
What Solomons has put in the effort to write is scene after scene of pointless things for Jane to do just because they’re a bit kooky (shoving her phone in the fridge when the conversation doesn’t go her way, writing naked because it’s meant to be creatively liberating).
The story gets slightly more interesting when one of Jane’s literary creations (Amy Manson) materialises and starts mocking her creative drought, and though Darsie as a character is sardonically funny, and it allows the film to indulge in that old awkward comedy standby of “main character who looks to others like she’s talking to herself”, these scenes are too scarce to elevate the rest of the film.
The love story we are presented with beggars belief. It’s wrong on so many levels, but we’re meant to be swept up by it, to root for Jane to get together in the end with Tom. Tom’s main drive for much of the film involves him deliberately trying to ruin Jane’s life in order to reignite her creative spark, so she can fulfil her two book contractual obligation. And we’re meant to want this guy to end up with Jane. Really? At least Tom’s teacher friend/co-conspirator (Iain De Caestecker) has the sense to point out how morally horrible this behavior is. Jane also considers marrying the other guy in her life, a self-obsessed screenwriter (Henry Ian Cusick) who she shares her flat with, and who is scarcely any more appealing a charter than Tom. It’s not like in BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY where the girl could conceivably end up with either guy (even Hugh Grant, who played a bit of a berk) – here both potential partners are irredeemable, terrible human beings, yet Jane is infuriatingly easily taken in by them. The fact that Jane still has feelings for Tom even after what he has been doing to her is revealed just serves to undermine her as a character and makes me think Gillan needs to choose her scripts a bit more carefully.
The main thrust of the film, other than the love story that doesn’t really work, is built around two of the oldest clichés about creative endeavors – “The Difficult Second Album” and that true creativity is impossible to achieve while you’re happy. Surely we’re past talking about either of these misleading, untrue concepts? The only even remotely profound thing the film has to say comes right at the end, when Jane tells Tom “You don’t write because you’re miserable, you write because you have to…because if you don’t you might as well be dead” and this sort-of rings true to me, because I’m not above getting a little melodramatic when writing.
Not Another Happy Ending just doesn’t work, not as a story, not as a film. The drama and relationships aren’t given enough time to make a mark, the soundtrack and editing decisions are too showy, distracting and pointless, and the characters are one-note and their decisions don’t make any sense. I might not care so much if it had something worthwhile to say about life as a writer, or having a parent-level protectiveness of your intellectual property, or even if the film was funny, but it isn’t. Writer David Solomons shows next-to-no wit here, and though director John McKay makes sure everything is in focus, and occasionally frames shots pretty well, he doesn’t seem to be able to elevate the sub-par material by engaging effectively with his actors. It’s just a frustrating thing to watch. SSP