Synopsis: A famous actor goes incognito to seek treatment for a medical issue. While 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 has ever played…herself.
Stars: Andie MacDowell, Miriam Margolyes, Sally Phillips, Rakhee Thakrar, Tom Cullen, Michell Greenidge, Tamsin Greig, David Walliams
Directors: Tal Granit & Sharon Maymon
Running Length: 89 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: Like some foods, movie stars are an acquired taste. There are a few choice names I grew up loving who I have little tolerance for now, while others I now fully embrace. Andie MacDowell is one of those celebrities I needed some time to warm up to, and looking back, I can’t understand why. Maybe I was unfairly influenced by media dismissing the model-turned-actress as a few rungs down from the A-list, even though she routinely starred alongside top-tier talent in blockbuster films. MacDowell has an impressive list of credits throughout the 80s and 90s. While the roles turned to the more supportive motherly type at the turn of the century, she’s made a nice pivot recently with interesting projects that are often tailor-made for her.
Take My Happy Ending, for instance. This adaptation of a stage play by Anat Gov isn’t the most exciting selection for audiences, but there’s a reward there for those who take a chance. Sure, it’s slight and saccharine, with step-by-step instructions on approaching terminal illness and a persistent need to color within the lines at all costs. However, its core thesis statement is a rare, refreshing honesty that sets it apart from your standard Crying over Cancer five-hanky weepie.
MacDowell (Ready or Not) is brittle, faded film star Julia Roth, diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer and about to begin her first round of chemotherapy at a small UK clinic far away from the prying eyes of the media. Shocked that she doesn’t have a private room, Roth is placed with three other women rowing the same boat she’s just hopped into. There’s the earthy Mikey (Sally Phillips, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), cantankerous but sage Judy (Miriam Margolyes, Early Man), and young mother, Imaan (Rakhee Thakrar), and all three act as information totems throughout the day giving Julia a view of what the future holds in store. Popping in throughout the session are Julia’s close friend/manager Nancy (Tamsin Greig, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), and the resident doctor (Tom Cullen, Barbarians), who may have charmed the current patients but has met his match with the demanding Julia.
Rona Tamir has adapted Gov’s play, but the primarily one-setting piece hasn’t lost much of its staginess, save for several “holidays” the women take to combat the pain of their treatment. The more you know about Gov’s original work, the less the film version may appeal to you, considering the late Israeli author had the play set with an all-Israeli cast in Israel. Moving it to this English setting with this (albeit impressive) roster of stars dampens the initial message Gov was conveying. Yet, the themes are so universal you can forgive Tamir and directors Tal Granit & Sharon Maymon (an Oscar winner for the short Skin) for trying to make this all feel cohesive.
This is a movie with little middle ground. Most decisions are either heavy-handed or lightly swept under the rug, yet it strangely worked for me. Perhaps it’s because, like many, I’ve had loved ones face similar diagnoses and appreciate a different perspective presented than we usually are given. Yes, it’s frustrating, it frustrated me, but then again, the options offered in My Happy Ending aren’t about us or what we’d prefer. It’s the patient looking for their happy ending. Peel away some of the chintzy frill of the writing, and MacDowell has found a complex character here; it could have been explored more, but I’m glad it was explored in the first place.