Cry Funny Happy Movie Review
Cry Funny Happy, a 2003 Sundance feature and a recent entry in the 2003 Independent Film Festival of Boston, displays Neave's deft feel for both the power and idiocy of human conversation. However, he's not interested in the witty, refined banter of say, a Woody Allen film - instead, Neave gives us a voyeuristic look at the nitty gritty, the stuff people say when they don't have a smart script to fall back on.
It's Wes's (Michael Traynor) 30th birthday. His new live-in girlfriend, Sophie (Kellee Stewart), is attempting to organize a party for the occasion, but the wisecracking Wes is more interested in goofing around and trying to get Sophie into bed for a few minutes. The couple have invited Wes's longtime friends, each with his own significant (or not-so-significant) other. With a myriad of relationship snags and dangers waiting to surface, the celebration - just like the party in Thomas Vinterberg's dogme film, The Celebration (1998) - takes some interesting turns as the night progresses.
In creating the party sequences, Neave succeeds at one of the toughest directorial tasks - building a party out of thin air, and making it seem absolutely real. The evolution of Wes's party will appear uncomfortably familiar to many moviegoers, as the bash participants display truthful doses of awkwardness, ebullience and sheer frustration.
It's a shame that the raw incendiary energy of the party stands so far above the film's earlier setup and introduction. Neave begins the film not with Wes, but with Lenny (Tif Luckenbill), a guy on a mad dash to the airport to pick up his girlfriend, Ally (Amy Redford), an architect who's been away for nine months. In this quizzical mini-journey, Neave's out-of-focus camerawork and stilted "indie" feel don't accurately represent the better film yet to come.
The real accomplishments in Cry Funny Happy are the actors' abilities to push and pull words out of one another in conversations filled with missteps, loose ends, and unexplained backstory. The genesis of this was Neave's Leigh-like strategy of working with the actors for months before filming began, organizing extensive character creation and rehearsal - and then letting his actors ad-lib each situation, with the camera acting as just another partygoer.
The result is a talented cast of actors - the tension between Luckenbill and Redford is particularly satisfying - delving into the sharp intricacies of friendships and other connections. While that may be a simple concept compared to that of most big screen features, it has a level of complexity many "relationship" films never touch. With a tighter focus (both literally and figuratively), Sam Neave may become quite polished at telling this type of messy, personal story.
Reviewed at the 2003 Independent Film Festival of Boston.