Friday, April 8, 2011

No more. Please.

(Josh Radnor and Michael Aligieri in Happy Thank You More Please/Anchor Bay films)
            Motion Studies are not supposed to be holistic; they only concern themselves with a piece of something larger. But with a film like the recent Happy Thank You More Please, an exception must be made.
            Writer-Director-Star Josh Radnor’s film contains one image of protagonist Sam (Radnor) sitting on the stoop of his apartment building, drinking a Brooklyn Lager from the bottle. Beside him sits a mysterious black child named Rasheen (Michael Algieri) he has taken in (technically kidnapped) for a week, sipping from a coke can. It is a sunny day. Everything in the frame is somehow bright; the homey brown of the apartment steps and the beer bottle, the redness of the coke can, the fashionable blue and white neo-bohemian attire Sam never sheds, the darkness of Rasheen’s skin. Even the blackness of Sam’s trimmed beard, a vision of endearing scruffiness is “bright.” Variations of this image are repeated several times in the film, always involving a conversation, always playing on the theme of hapless friendship. But the brightness within this shot is really a grasp towards some idea of sophistication. So it must be here where it all turns dark.
            The brightness—both intellectual and visual—of every frame in Happy Thank You More Please destroys its own ambition. It means to illuminate, by way of a series of serio-comic gestures, the lives of young, smart people who don’t have their lives figured out yet, but who are on their way towards some sort of inner enlightenment. Its brightness also illuminates an already enlightened people who are ready to become more enlightened; who show a forthright cluelessness about the world as it exists outside of thrift stores and trust funds; who expect sympathy and even gratitude. Such brightness, when it shines on characters meant to be taken at face value, rather than ironically, shows that there is nothing really at stake amongst these comfortable lives. Yet not only is this not the stuff of drama or comedy; it is not the stuff of movement.
            Which brings up the one significant piece of motion within the shot of Sam and Rasheen drinking their beverages. Sam’s beer bottle swings up to his mouth, then casually back down to his legs, while he talks to Rasheen about his goals in life and art and not much else. The eye moves to nothing more than a bottle of beer, clearly labeled as Brooklyn Lager. Whether or not this counts as product placement is secondary; it is motion that doesn’t even try, that relies on cheap meaning and flashing amusement to passively exist. Radnor’s motion exists in a vacuum of indie music and brownstones. It whimpers rather than command his camera.
(Brooklyn Lager)