But another bad romcom.
Karen Gillan has been on something of a roll. After playing Amy Pond against Matt Smith’s title role in Doctor Who for about 40 episodes, as well as appearing on numerous other UK television shows, Hollywood took notice of the beautiful redhead. In 2014, she landed the lead in the low-budget, critically cheered horror film Oculus. This was followed by a small but important supporting role in the summer’s biggest hit, Guardians of the Galaxy. Neither of those films, however, mark her first major onscreen work. That distinction belongs to Not Another Happy Ending.
Jane Lockhart (Gillan) is an aspiring author who lands a two-book deal with independent publisher Tom Duval (Stanley Weber, The First Day of the Rest of Your Life). Her first book, based on her unhappy life, is a critical and commercial success. This success leads to a reunion between Jane and her estranged father Benny (Gary Lewis, Gangs of New York) and a long-term relationship with successful screenwriter Willie (Henry Ian Cusick, TV’s Lost).
This happiness has its downside, though: it causes writer’s block. For her second novel, Jane reaches the last chapter and cannot determine how to end her book. Tom, whose publishing firm is on the verge of bankruptcy, needs Jane’s novel. He devises ways to make her unhappy with the hopes that that sorrow will inspire her to finish her long-awaited sophomore effort. In the middle of all this, emotions blossom.
Not Another Happy Ending is billed as a romantic comedy and while it tries to be both, it turns out to be neither. The core of the problem is with the story and its accelerated establishment of relationships.
In the opening minutes of the film, after the viewer learns (efficiently so, to be fair) that Jane’s mother is deceased, her father is estranged, and she is an oft-rejected novelist, screenwriter David Solomons (Five Children and It) and director John McKay (Crush) forego all relationship development in lieu of getting to the doughy, cartoonish middle. They put Jane and Tom at odds over rewrites and a title change, but this is mostly via montage, where, accompanied by music, only the idea is offered that these two have one of those romcom love/hate relationships. The actual relationship itself is never developed.
Also undeveloped is the relationship between Jane and Willie. They meet at an awards show, they have sex that night, and then they are living together “36 chapters later” (a title card too cute by half). When the story finally slows to show Jane struggling with Chapter 37, she and Willie are more like an old married couple than romantic partners. To say their spark is lost is to suggest there was spark to begin with, but there is no way to know the fresh-to-stale path of the relationship because the filmmakers fail to show it. Like the Jane/Tom relationship, this one is more about the idea of it than the actuality of it.
This acceleration prohibits all chemistry from being developed between Gillan and her leads. As each devilishly handsome actor is interacting with Gillan, there is never a believable emotional moment. It’s a RomCom devoid of Rom and, ultimately, the film is left with three unique sides that fail to form any semblance of a love triangle.
Without any Rom, all that remains is Com. There is none of that to be found, either. There are two long comedic plays in the picture, and both fall flat.
The first is Tom’s effort to make Jane’s life miserable. The actions he takes, designed (it seems) to be funny in construct and slapstick in execution, are cruel rather than comic, making his character not desperately misguided, but creepily vindictive. This makes him a romantic lead actually worth rooting against. The milquetoast Willie isn’t worth any emotional effort from the viewer at all, even when he is a victim of Tom’s ridiculous machinations.
The second is the appearance of Darsie (Amy Manson, Pumpkinhead: Blood Feud) in Jane’s life. Darsie is the fictional character of Jane’s incomplete second novel, a woman who manifests herself to Jane’s eyes only, offering useless dialogue and the occasional opportunity for bit characters to look at Jane funnily because they don’t know who she’s talking to. Instead of being an insightful personification of Jane’s subconscious, she appears at random, making her a device for device’s sake.
The film is fraught with other problems, including a lack of true pathos (the subplot with Jane’s father is, once again, merely the idea of something); conflict cheaply inserted when it feels like it’s needed; and too heavy a reliance on montages and music video-like transitions. In the end, what the filmmakers fail to realize is this sort of film is about the journey as much as it is the destination. Instead of writing and directing and delivering a full story and well-realized characters, the filmmakers give an interesting idea of a romrom, not an actual interesting romcom.
It is impossible, though, to resist Karen Gillan’s charm. She is beautiful and bubbly and never offers the feeling she is mailing it in. You cannot ask for more than that.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic video presentation of Not Another Happy Ending is mixed, and the quality is driven by the degree of light in the scene. The brighter the scene, the more noticeable the issue. This is particularly glaring when Gillan is in the scene (and she’s in almost all of them), as her already fair skin becomes that much more pale. Washout along edges is common. That said, when the lighting is subdued, the picture is quite nice. The Dolby 5.1 audio track is saddled with sketchy source audio. Where the image quality us based on brightness, the sound quality is based on setting — the larger the room, the more hollow the dialogue. The many, many music tracks that play sound perfectly fine, though.
In addition to the film’s trailer, there are two featurettes on the Not Another Happy Ending DVD:
Clocking in at 26:05, Behind the Scenes is exactly that — a BTS look at the film. Woven together are scenes from the film, BTS video (some clips set to music), and interviews with filmmakers and cast. The subjects who contribute onscreen are greater in number than on any BTS featurette I’ve ever seen. They include Solomons and McKay, the major members of the cast, producers Wendy Griffin and Claire Mundell, cinematographer George Cameron Geddes, all the way down the line to the location assistant and the focus puller.
John McCay (Director) Interview is a 15:50 interview with the film’s director. He sits at a table and answers questions that appear as title cards on the screen. Those questions cover the director’s thoughts and memories on the story, Gillan, Weber, the filming process, post-production, the music, the writing, the producers, and the location.
Not Another Happy Ending tries to hit all the romcom marks without actually earning the right to get to those marks, which results in a case (ironic to the film’s writer’s block hook) where the page would have been better left blank.