Saturday, March 23, 2013

James C. Ferguson's HAPPY HOLIDAYS tackles friendship, family and religious faith

Every so often, out of the blue, TrustMovies is asked by a filmmaker (rather than a PR outfit) to watch and then cover a film. So whenever he can find some time between already-promised coverage of smaller films about to open in theaters, he'll do this. The results are hit and miss, as they are with most output. The latest request come from a fellow named James C. Ferguson, shown below, whose IMDB resume looks pretty impressive. The film at hand -- HAPPY HOLIDAYS -- is his first full-length piece as director and co-writer (with Tom Misuraca).

The movie was actually filmed back in 2007 but saw its release, I think, in 2008, mostly on DVD and is now expanding into more modern modes of viewing such as VOD and streaming (click here to learn more about where and how to see the film.) Shot in black-and-white, which TM happens to enjoy viewing, Happy Holidays tracks the unexpected reunion of three pals -- one gay, the other two straight -- from high school and even further back, just before Christmas. One of them, Patrick (played by Paul Hungerford, below) -- a gay man about to leave with his lover, Kevin, for Kevin's family holiday gathering -- receives a phone from Alden, an old friend "in trouble" who needs his immediate attention. So Patrick tells Kevin to go home alone. Huh? OK: We know Patrick has some major problems.

Once Alden (John B. Crye, below) arrives, the two friends go to breakfast and bump into another old pal, Kirby, in town for his father's funeral. Given a little more coincidence and circumstance, the three of them meet again and proceed to argue, fight and generally annoy each other (as well as us viewers) big-time. This goes on for nearly 90 minutes, which is way over what the traffic will bear, particularly when, early on, it has become clear that these three wouldn't hang out together in the real world for more than a few foul minutes.

Along the way, there are some clever lines and a few spurts of dialog that take off for a time. Religion gets its licks: Kirby (Thomas Rhodes, below) is a semi-devout Catholic who serially cheats on his wife; Alden is a Christian who has recently converted to Judaism (the reason is one of the less convincing things in the film), and Patrick's an atheist barely in touch with his religious-minded par-ents. Mr. Ferguson seems to want to explore all this, but the explo-rations are hazy, shallow and not particularly funny or pointed.

The film's funniest/nastiest scene takes place at a funeral service (above) in which the priest mistakes Kirby's dead father for the dead woman from an earlier service, but even this, thanks to timing and performances that are just a bit "off," is not as well-done as it might have been. The writing is of the sort that fills its dialog with exposition and disperses lines to characters because they seem funny, not because they seem real or appropriate. At one point, Kirby offers a riposte that would much more likely come out of the mouth of a gay man than a straight.

This slightly "off" quality seems to plague the movie from its first scene, in the pet store that Patrick runs involving his associate, a customer, and how much "time off" will be given for the holidays. Later we get more of the same in a diner in which two women, one hard-of-hearing, plague Patrick about his homosexuality. This might have been funnier, or more embarrassing, or both. As it is, the scene is just off-base enough to not quite work.

Clearly, all three of our protagonists are troubled guys. If we liked them better, we might wish them well. But, as co-writer and director, Ferguson has not managed this. So, when the feel-good ending approaches, and Alden and Kirby suddenly bond, it's too much. Oddly enough, Patrick's turn-around, below, with his parents and his friends, actually works better than it has any right to. We are somewhat moved at this point in the film, which only makes us wish the movie had started making us care a lot earlier.

Happy Holidays, running a too-long 104 minutes, does have a charming song sung over the end credits called Generic Winter Holiday, written by Zack Hexum and Molly Beck Ferguson (who is, I am guessing, the filmmaker's wife, and who has a lovely voice). The song can be purchased from iTunes. I'd like to hear it again, so I just might do this. Again, you can learn how to view the movie (and get that song!) by clicking here.

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