Saturday, March 12, 2016

A digital debut for Joan Carr-Wiggin's HAPPILY EVER AFTER: Lightning does not strike twice

When the terrific (and still woefully underseen and under-appreciated) rom-com If I Were You burst upon us in March of 2013, TrustMovies thought that he, as well as the world at large, had found a fabulous new filmmaker: Joan Carr-Wiggin. Granted, he had also seen and not much liked her earlier film, A Previous Engagement, but because If I Were You remains among the best rom-coms he has ever seen, he was more than a little excited to view her new one: HAPPILY EVER AFTER. Unfortunately it skews to that former film's weaknesses rather than to the strengths of the latter.

Those would include the just-about-perfect performances of If I Were You's stars, Marcia Gay Harden and Leonore Watling, as well as a plot that grew ever more interesting, off-kilter and appealing as the film moved along. Carr-Wiggin (the filmmaker is pictured at left) has, in her latest work, appeared to revert to her earlier problem of putting preaching prior to plot and entertainment value. And this only grows more so as Happily Ever After runs its course. Yes, the filmmaker wants to point up western society's penchant for hypocrisy and denial, but having the characters almost constantly wag their finger at each other (and us) is perhaps not the best way to do this. (The film's title itself is problematic, as there have been by now dozens of movies and TV films to use this same moniker. By calling your film Happily Ever After, you're immediately in used-tire territory.)

In addition, there are so very many oddball couplings, "surprise" connections and reversals/revelations in the course of the film that, after awhile, we stop counting -- and caring, (My spouse stopped watching around 80-minute point; I lasted out until the end.)

This is too bad because Carr-Wiggin has assembled a pretty good cast to people her romp and occasionally given them some smart dialog to perform. Shown at left in the two photos above is the movie's OK co-star Janet Montgomery and her even-better co-star Sarah Paxton (shown at right in both photos).

The two play high school best friends, whose friendship disappeared suddenly when the former headed out of town without notifying anyone some years previous. Also involved are the Paxton character's mother (Alex Kingston, above left) and current best friend (Claire Brosseau, above, right).

The guys -- usually a lesser breed in the Carr-Wiggin oeuvre -- are represented by our two heroines' dads (Peter Firth, left, and Al Sapienza, right) and Alex McCooeye (center) as a somewhat baffled groom-to-be. As I say, the performers are good, but the hoops they are asked to jump through would prove tricky to the most seasoned and talented performers. (Harden and Watling in If I Were You, for all the bizarre situations in which Carr-Wiggin placed them, had much stronger characters to play. And the actresses are damned strong, too.)

So, on balance, Happily Ever After proves more trying than entertaining. But the filmmaker is said to have yet another film coming out later this year featuring a very good British cast. We live in hope. Meanwhile, this one -- running a too-long 112 minutes and distributed by Alchemy -- makes its digital debut this coming Tuesday, March 15, on major platforms from Amazon to Xbox and most everything in between. 

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