“The Happys” is a film about self-definition that itself doesn’t know what it wants to be — a situation that renders directors Tom Gould and Jon Serpe’s indie effort a tonally confused slog. The story of a Midwestern girl whose life is upended after she discovers her fiancé sleeping with another man, the pic’s premise and various scenarios appear designed for humor. However, when the jokes don’t actually materialize (or land), the proceedings become bogged down in drama that the film’s one-dimensional characters can’t sustain. In theaters and quickly on VOD, it’s a middling work that seems destined to be passed over by discerning audiences.
Since childhood, Tracy (Amanda Bauer) has dreamed of becoming a doting wife who cooks for her “perfect” man. Thus, she isn’t thrilled when, after moving to Los Angeles to support husband-to-be Mark (Jack DePew) and his acting career, she walks in on him having some hot-and-heavy fun with another guy. Rather than ditching him because he’s, you know, gay, she instead gives him another shot so long as he promises to never, ever have more homosexual sex. This is, of course, willful idiocy even for a naïve country girl like Tracy. And it’s in keeping with her other unbelievable behavior, which includes bothering Mark by bringing him homemade lunches on the set of his latest movie, as well as striking up a friendship with local shut-in Sebastian (Rhys Ward), who’s the fascination of Luann (Janeane Garofalo), a former child star-turned-property magnate in their Los Feliz community (AKA “The Happys”).
The particulars of Tracy and Sebastian’s meet-cute are as contrived and awkwardly staged as their rapport, which is initially predicated on their shared history of rejection — Tracy via Mark, and Sebastian courtesy of an ex-girlfriend who dumped him after he lost one of his testicles to a deadly spider bite. That sort of detail sounds like a joke, but “The Happys” doesn’t intend it to be funny. The movie subsequently subjects its audience to lots of mirthless chitchat between Tracy and Sebastian, as well as between Mark and his agent, Krista (Melissa McBride), who doesn’t want her client blowing his shot at superstardom over romantic troubles — much less his (disadvantageous) sexual preferences.
In an early conversation between Mark and his castmates, Gould and Serpe’s script tries to address a host of serious topics, including the toxicity of the closet, cinematic gay stereotypes and the lack of Asians in leading movie roles. “The Happys,” though, is so sketchy and insubstantial that these well-intentioned gestures come across as laughably out of place. Just as silly is the fact that it takes Tracy an additional 40 minutes of the film’s 87-minute runtime to figure out that forcing Mark to be a hetero husband is futile — a revelation that, when it finally does arrive, sends her on a quest of self-discovery that leads to a new career as a food-truck chef alongside partner Ricky (Arturo del Puerto).
Tracy’s budding gift at fusion cuisine speaks to the film’s celebration of creating something unique and rewarding from unexpected, dissimilar elements. And by its heartwarming conclusion, “The Happys” also manages to promote the healthiness of breaking free from self-made (figurative and literal) prisons. Sitcom-grade visuals and a forgettable score from Wilco’s Pat Sansone, alas, do little to sell such messages, nor do a collection of ho-hum performances that are inoffensive to the point of being outright featureless.