It’s not uncommon for first time writer-directors to make movies about a “hero” they identify with — at least a little — and a situation seen from the point of view of someone like them.
That’s not necessarily a good thing.
Editor turned first-time writer-director David Beinstein’s “Are You Happy Now” is built around somebody with mental health “issues” and a relationship that makes no sense on paper, but somehow is supposed to work. The characters are young, urban and Jewish and have a big (ish) Jewish wedding, only to figure out that “makes no sense on paper” thing afterwards.
Without knowing him, one cannot know how much Beinstein “identifies” with his aimless, impulse-control slacker hero, Adam. But he must. Because that’s who his film follows, who he gives most of the scenes and attention to. Beinstein pretty much forgets his leading lady Gina for over half the movie.
That makes for a film with a few scattered laughs in a story that’s so myopic as to be dull, with whatever “heart” it might have had left wherever Beinstein parks Gina for most of the movie.
We don’t expect that, as Gina (Ismenia Mendes) is the voice-over narrator of the opening scenes.
“He was broken,” she says of Adam (Josh Ruben). She doesn’t have to say “I thought I could fix him.” It’s implied.
They’re cute together, but the moment she says “I need intimacy, REAL intimacy,” the “intimacy issues” come to the fore. Gina is constantly bucking Adam up, even though he has no purpose, no aim in life beyond being with her. Her go-to “fix” for him is acupuncture, which she’s “learning.” He goes along with it because “You LIKE it when I’m bossy.”
Adam is an inept waiter/food delivery guy for this too-tolerant chef/cafe-owner (Blake DeLong) who turns out to be his brother. Brother Leo stops chiding Adam about “f—–g up” his relationship, about how “She’s GOOD for you” and the like to finally kick his brother to the curb.
Adam leaves the job he’s just been fired from by stealing a cake and hurtling out the door.
During his deliveries, Adam had stumbled across this acting class whose teacher (Danny Johnson) seems like a nice enough fellow. That leads to Adam calling himself “an actor” when asked, for a bit. Job hunting only plops him in an even worse restaurant situation, a fast food dump called “Just Chicken.”
Because basically Gina is all he’s got. He’s been planning to propose, and failing, one of the reasons Leo says he’s “f—–g up.” But one of their arguments ends the way we know it must. He pops the question. Gina, Ms. “Matrimony is a LIE,” isn’t having it. At first. But Adam can be persuasive.
“I don’t want to OWN you. I want to DIE with you. Or be there when you die.”‘
That’s kind of funny, and that’s about as funny as any of the dialogue gets.
Gina? She slips into the background and then out of the scene altogether as Adam spends more and more time with new, needy sibling-issues “Just Chicken” boss Walt (David Ebert).
What does hapless Adam have in common with downtrodden Walt? They lack confidence, perhaps induced by older, more successful siblings. What can they do about that, aside from bonding over Walt’s pet chickens? Maybe they both could use an acting class.
Ebert’s the funniest player in this, with Ruben — playing a scatterbrained character who spent a few weeks in a “mental health facility” — reduced to being a disheveled reactor to everything that’s going on around him in their scenes.
That doesn’t make for much of a movie. “Are You Happy Now” feels random, with sequences and situations sort of slapped together in a less than wholly logical order. Not exactly what you’d expect in a feature film made by a film editor.
There’s a funny bit here and there. The father-in-law (Ed Jewett) gives Adam a check at the wedding, post-dating it twenty years. “It’s a wedding gift…from the FUTURE.”
But there’s little to grab hold of and embrace in this comedy. Ebert may be the funniest actor on set but Mendes is the most interesting.
And who does Beinstein make the movie about? Adam, another “cute” mentally ill person, played with an aimless, abortive mania by Ruben. Looking at the wrongheaded-from-inception finished film, we can only wonder “Why?”
Which brings me back to my opening point. If we’re destined to see movies about characters filmmakers see themselves in, “Are You Happy Now” is a poster-child film for diversity. That mediocrity like this gets made, financed and distributed is a great argument for “Let’s see what that Latinx, Asian, African American woman or young man has to pitch.” It has to be better than this.
Rating: unrated, sexual situations
Cast: Josh Ruben, Ismenia Mendes, David Ebert, Blake DeLong and Danny Johnson.
Credits: Scripted and directed by David Beinstein. A Gravitas Ventures release.
Running time: 1:35