There are pleasing outcomes for almost everyone in Happy Endings, and that’s not good news. Writer-director Don Roos sets up a game board’s worth of dysfunctional characters in his arch trifle of a romantic comedy — as in his much sharper debut, The Opposite of Sex, he’s entranced by the overlap of gay and straight lifestyles among sophisticates who don’t bat an eye at such muddle. And then he lets them make fools of themselves, desiring the wrong people, things, and L.A. signifiers before stumbling into what suits them (and the narrative game board) best. There’s something bitter about the fun Roos has at his players’ expense, as if he’s trivializing their troubles.
And then there are, you know, wink wink, happy endings as well, involving sex and its potential for making people act really foolishly. Take Mamie (Lisa Kudrow) and her stepbrother, Charley (Steve Coogan), whose teenage escapades resulted in pregnancy. Now Charley is gay and living with Gil (David Sutcliffe). And Mamie, who is carrying on with her Mexican masseur boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale), is being blackmailed by an aspiring documentary filmmaker (Jesse Bradford) who claims to have information about the son Mamie gave up for adoption years ago. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a punk adventuress who seduces a young gay musician (Jason Ritter) as well as his rich father (Tom Arnold). Laura Dern plays Charley’s lesbian best friend whose son may or may not be the happy ending for Gil’s donated sperm. Trouble is, every character in Roos’ universe plays at having problems in a homo-hetero-Angeleno world but lacks substance, each little more than a composite of quirks and one-liners — a hip ensemble cast playing games further embroidered by the regular appearance of title cards that comment on the action. Still, there are three felicitous developments to report in this bliss-deficient project: Gyllenhaal is as wonderfully, naturally slouchy-sexy as her character is artificial and also turns out to be a riveting torch singer; Arnold is impressively vulnerable and honorable as the story’s one guileless man; and as she was in The Opposite of Sex, Kudrow is a heartbreaker, and a muse.