Boy meets girl. She’s beautiful, they hit it off, and he takes her home. But they’re both trying to ‘change,’ and a one-night stand would violate their new resolutions of responsibility. The solution? A three-night stand, complete with playing house in a shared apartment while jointly taking care of the tiny black boy who just happens to live there. Filled with such eccentric character vignettes, "Happythankyoumoreplease"—directed, written, and starring Josh Radnor of "How I Met Your Mother" fame—uses borderline-absurd storylines to create a diorama of the lives of several 20-somethings in New York City. While this setting and demographic have undoubtedly had their fair share of representation in popular cinema and television, Radnor’s debut dramedy has undeniable heart and makes for a refreshingly fine film.
Each of the narrative threads of "Happythankyoumoreplease" center around coincidence and companionship. When the film’s main character, Sam (Radnor) fortuitously finds the young Rasheen (Michael Algieri)—who has been separated from his family—on a subway, he takes the African-American boy into his home, sparking the movie’s most poignant relationship. In one evocative scene, Rasheen is shown drawing with two pens and a highlighter while Sam types away at his novel with frustration. Time accelerates and the characters continue with their respective tasks on fast-forward. Then, as light begins to stream into the room, the scene slows back to real-time and the audience sees that Rasheen has sketched a rough approximation of himself and his surrogate guardian Sam.
The film itself operates in a similar fashion, frantically scribbling out the lives of its extensive cast of characters, using powerful emotional moments to color its canvas. In this breakneck narrative, audiences follow not only Sam and Rasheen, but also Sam’s best friend, Annie (Malin Akerman), who is bald from an autoimmune disease; Annie’s distant admirer, "Sam #2" (Tony Hale of "Arrested Development"); a young couple (Zoe Kazan and Bram Barouh) trying to decide whether New York is the right place for them to settle down; and Mississippi (Kate Mara), the girl that Sam cannot decide whether or not to pursue.
Juggling such an ensemble successfully demands that every minute of screen-time and each line of dialogue be taut and effective. Accordingly, in Radnor’s script, each moment has a function, conveying exactly the message needed to establish connections between characters, as in the scene with Rasheen’s drawing. The tight direction of the screenplay dovetails with the film’s broader moral that the universe cares for individuals and will ultimately provide them with their heart’s true desire. However, this artificially-imposed narrative superstructure unavoidably detracts from the natural flow of the characters’ actions. Because of this, "Happythankyoumoreplease" feels more like a cleverly scripted short story than a genuine slice of life, with realism sacrificed for the sake of a meaningful message.
One of the film’s greatest strengths is its artistry, from score to cinematography. The soundtrack—mostly soft vocals and ambient music—is effective in setting the mood without being overbearing. Lighting throughout is superb—the streets of New York are harsh in their brilliance, Sam’s apartment is by contrast warm and soft, Mississippi’s cabaret is golden and dark, and Annie’s bar is dingy and derelict. In this fashion, each character’s environment accurately reflects his or her emotional circumstances, with exteriors even changing over the course of the film to match altered internal states. While one may criticize the overdetermined nature of the movie’s plot and scenery, one cannot deny that these choices skillfully combine to communicate the film’s life lesson.
That moral is simple: approach the universe with optimism, self-respect, and good intentions, and it will provide for your happiness. Because the film carefully conspires to convey this notion with every narrative development, when one character exultantly declares that she has "found the meaning of life"—to try to be happy and thankful, and let the rest take its course—the moment comes across as compelling rather than cliché. The simple realization of each of the film’s flawed characters that it’s okay to ask for "more, please"—whether from a romantic, friendly, familial, or spiritual relationship—instead of cynically muddling along alone rings strong and true. In crafting such a life-affirming morality play for meandering moderns, Radnor thus reveals himself as a serious cinematic talent, able to bring meaning to audiences and not just laughs.