MY HAPPY ENDING
April 25, 2023
Andie MacDowell, David Walliams, Tom Cullen
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.
Written By Darren
Rating 2.5 out of 5
My Happy Ending has all the right intentions with this character study of a middle aged woman struggling to come to terms with her medical diagnosis, but it fails to generate the emotions required to make this the engaging drama it wants to be.
I am a sucker for a terminal illness film, typically never failing to be sucked into the emotional whirlwind that typically surrounds such stories. While most films in this subgenre tend to chronicle the entire illness, My Happy Ending focuses primarily on the beginning of the illness and follows one woman coming to terms with her diagnosis. It’s an interesting direction, however the film never digs deep enough into the emotions of the story to give star Andie MacDowell the character development nor the audience the emotional depth that is needed to allow this film to succeed.
Julia is a famous movie star, struggling to find her next role, who has recently been diagnosed with stage four cancer. Away from the public eye, Julia visits a British hospital for her first day of chemotherapy. There she meets a group of women also undergoing chemotherapy, who help Julia come to terms with her diagnosis and the road that lies ahead for her.
Adaptaing stage shows to the screen works sometimes, and sometimes it doesn’t. With a stage setting, it is easier for the actor to form a connection with the audience, rather than on screen when the actor has to do the same thing through a camera lens. And that is what hurts My Happy Ending the most, as the film is more focused on the story and ideas at play rather than letting MacDowell dig deep into her character. With a run time of under ninety minutes, the film wastes no time moving the plot along and ensures each dream sequence is highlighted as the women of the chemotherapy group manage their treatment and pain. Julia’s acceptance and coming to terms with her diagnosis is conveyed, but it occurs through the plot development rather than letting MacDowell create it herself with her performance. It removes the emotional weight of the story, dampening it rather than letting it emotionally overpower the audience as they watch the film. Even though the film ends on an empowering note where Julia decides how she’s going to live her life with her diagnosis, it’s too late after melodramatic moments that don’t stick the landing.
With a smaller film like this and an adaptation that does not fully translate to the screen, a strong performance can save the film. However, Andie McDowell is not the actress to do that. She gives a serviceable performance, easily becoming the demanding movie star with a temper and disregard for the hospital staff. For her role's quieter moments, she does find the emotion behind her character’s pain and suffering as she truly comes to terms as to what her life is going to look like with or without treatment. Though, her performance never became the spotlight of the film. She follows the script and does what is required of her, but it’s not a performance that you can’t take your eyes off that compensates for the screenplay’s shortcomings.
As for the supporting cast, the women portraying the other patients receiving chemotherapy all bring a wonderful energy to the film, capturing these women’s positivity while bearing their pain as required to help Julia on her journey of self discovery. Tom Cullen makes for a fine doctor, but both Cullen and the actresses supporting McDowell have very supporting roles meant to help progress Julia’s story and don’t give them any material to allow them to leave a lasting impression on the audience.
While it’s not bad by any standard, My Happy Ending just feels like it never gets close to what it intended to be. Despite having a fresh angle for the terminal illness drama subgenre, serviceable performances and an underdeveloped screenplay hold My Happy Ending back from being the emotional rollercoaster it set itself up to be.