THE STORY – A famous actress goes incognito to seek treatment for a medical issue. While staying at the hospital, she meets three unique and remarkable women — an aging rocker, a young mother, and a forever single retired schoolteacher. Together, they help her face adversity with humor and camaraderie while coaching her for the most challenging role she’s ever played — herself.
THE CAST – Andie MacDowell, Tom Cullen, Miriam Margolyes, Tamsin Greig, Sally Phillips, Rakhee Thakrar, David Walliams & Michelle Greenidge
THE TEAM – Tal Granit, Sharon Maymon (Directors) & Rona Tamir (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 89 Minutes
“My Happy Ending” is based on the Israeli play “Happy End” and is billed as a comedy featuring Andie MacDowell in the lead role; and aims to discuss cancer and death in a way that is both funny and unique. This may sound extremely difficult, but it is doable, as others – like the Joseph Gordon-Levitt comedy “50/50” – have been able to tackle this issue in interesting and authentic ways. Unfortunately, Tal Granit and Sharon Maymon’s film mainly falls short, despite the best efforts of MacDowell and a solid supporting cast.
The film takes place in London, shortly after Julia opened a play that was meant to be her comeback, and it just so happened that she also received her cancer diagnosis that same day. As such, she, therefore, must begin chemotherapy there and unfortunately is unable to get a private room, which she ends up sharing with three other women who also have cancer: a perpetually single retired teacher (Miriam Margolyes), a former rocker (Sally Phillips), and young Muslim mother (Rakhee Thakrar). Even though they promise to keep Julia’s presence there a secret – which is very important to her – they have no problem chatting about her within earshot, calling her a “Hollywood has-been.” These women are unfailingly nosy yet are, for the most part, optimistic. Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t take long before Julia becomes part of the group, who often retreats to imaginary lands when dealing with immense pain and/or depression. Julia’s longtime friend and manager, Nancy (Tamsin Greig), also pops up here and there.
To the credit of the playwright and screenwriter, the four women undergoing chemotherapy are wholly different from one another, with varying experiences of life, cultural and personal identities, etc. Much of the film occurs in one primary location, except when the women retreat to their so-called “holidays.” You’d expect a movie that’s so intimate and small – with so few characters – to be more focused than “My Happy Ending” ends up being. Also, it’s difficult to call this film a full-blown comedy, although it does have a handful of humorous moments that try to make cancer funny in the same way that something like “50/50” was able to do. The script attempts to mix humor with more serious elements, clearly meant to portray the realities of chemotherapy and cancer. The film wants to provide the audience with an honest look and honest conversations about cancer, although this often feels forced and not nearly as authentic as it wants to be.
Of course, there’s something admirable and relatable about showing how people from various backgrounds and experiences can suffer together, find the silver lining in their suffering, and show how they can all bond over a shared illness or condition. Yet, the decision to have the women retreat to a sort of fantasy land seems too far-fetched and unbelievable, thereby contrasting with whatever tone the writers had intended for the rest of the film. It’s unclear whether this was meant to be a comedy, drama, or fantasy, and, sure, other films can deftly tackle genre mixing, yet Granit and Maymon cannot fully plant their feet in any genre.
Even though we may not know how the movie will end, there are many predictable moments and lines of dialogue that are practically eye-roll-inducing. However, every actor gives it their best, especially MacDowell, who has been gifted with incredibly expressive, naturally sad eyes. We understand why MacDowell’s Julia wants to keep her diagnosis private, and she handles the character’s development quite well, even if said development occurs much more rapidly than it should. And Julia seems to possess too much of an attachment to her hair, which only exacerbates her vain persona. Even though “My Happy Ending” is only 89 minutes long, it seems like the narrative is stretched too thin; it may have been better as a short film.
Margolyes’ outspoken Judy has a surprisingly tragic backstory, which seemingly comes out of nowhere, Phillips’ Mikey is almost annoyingly cheerful, and the others call her “Dr. Goodvibes,” and Thakrar’s Imran practically fades into the background. Greig’s Nancy is a fairly standard, Type-A manager who is probably given some of the worst dialogue in the film, and she does what she can with it. The supporting cast also includes Tom Cullen as the soft-spoken, well-meaning Dr. Hanson and Michelle Greenidge as the no-nonsense nurse who is just doing her job.
In short, “My Happy Ending” struggles to transition from stage to screen. It has moments of nuance and glimpses into what a great movie this could have been, yet Tamir’s script isn’t nearly as clever or exciting as it wants to be. MacDowell – and the rest of the supporting cast – deserve better.