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Happy Here and Now (R)

Release Date: December 14th, 2005 (NYC-IFC Center) by IFC Films.
Video Release Date: December 26th, 2005.
The Cast: Karl Geary, Shalom Harlow, Clarence Williams III, Ally Sheedy, Josephine Martin, Gloria Reuben, Liane Balaban, David Arquette, Isabel Gillies, Quintron, Nic Ratner.
Directed by Michael Almereyda.

BASIC PREMISE: Amelia (Balaban) searches for her missing sister Muriel (Harlow) by investigating the last place she visited: a live video chat over the internet.

ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: The plot involves a strange combination of sci-fi, mystery, drama, and suspense while adding some off-beat humor along the way. However, even though the off-beat humor works on its own, it feels somewhat misplaced and distracting in the larger context of the plot. The plot’s conflict is clear from the beginning: Amelia must search for her missing sister who may or may not have been killed. She hires a private investigator (Williams III) who helps her to look for clues on an live Internet video chat with a strange man on the other end. Somehow, for reasons unexplained, the computer can change the other person’s appearance and voice. The only interesting characters are the supporting ones, such as a dorky man (Quintron) who specializes in termite control and seeks an acting career in a movie directed by the quirky Eddie (Arquette). Arquette and Quintron are the only two actors who bring much-needed charisma and energy to their characters. In a parallel plot, a woman with an eye patch, who’s constantly asked what’s wrong with her eye, always replies, “Which one?” As the plot progresses, it becomes more and more confusing while less and less fun. If only writer-director Michael Almereyda focused more on strengthening the script to make it more coherent rather than try to use gimmicky, contrived plot twists. Also, you never really end up caring about Muriel because the script doesn’t allow you to get to know her or least to have some more information about her background. The stylish cinematography and good music don’t really help much by the time the mind-boggling third act comes.

SPIRITUAL VALUE: “What is happiness?” is one of the fundamental questions in philosophy and Happy Here and Now briefly brings up its relevance within this modern, materialistic society. Also, the blurred line between reality and fantasy makes you think as well as how dangerous—and deceptive—technology can be. All of these themes become muddled by the last scene, which fails to make a spiritual or even an intellectual impact on you.

INSULT TO YOUR INTELLIGENCE: A contrived, gimmicky, and confusing plot.


THE BOTTOM LINE: Off-beat humor and stylish cinematography, but a muddled, gimmicky script with an increasingly confusing plot will make your head spin more often than not.


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