By Merle Bertrand | January 23, 2003

Whoo, boy! Digital video and an improv troupe. Can indie filmmaking get any better than this? It sure can. Lots better, actually, but “Cry, Funny, Happy” isn’t quite as awful as one might expect from such a fraught with potential disaster combination as that one.
Oh, sure, the digital video part is every bit as horrid and even a tad worse than expected. This was, after all, an improv piece, so the filmmakers apparently decided it would be okay to just leave their camcorder on auto-focus.
Nor does the plot of “Cry, Funny, Happy” do much to help the film’s cause. It’s the old, derivative friends-gathering-for-a-birthday-party ploy rearing its well-worn head again. In this case, Wes’ recently moved-in girlfriend Sophie is throwing a thirtieth birthday party in his honor. Among the guests on the invite list are the mild-mannered Lenny and his equally high-strung girlfriend Allie, an architect who’s just returned home that morning from a nine-month stay in Paris. Then there’s Dylan, a grad student and notorious lady’s man…who meets Naima, a distraught but attractive Iranian woman on the train. Smitten, he brings her along, even though she doesn’t speak any English. With none of these people nearly as happy or content with their lives as they’re pretending to be for their friends, fireworks inevitably explode at the party. And so forth.
The one thing that does make director Sam Neave’s (barely) thirty-something slice of life melodrama at least somewhat palatable is the performance of the aforementioned troupe of improv actors. Granted, Neave and editor David Neumann help the cast along a bit with some strategically placed jump cuts and the like, and, yes, these performances — indeed, this film as a whole — is way over the top and overly theatrical. But at least the cast manages to breathe some life and pathos into what are worn to the bone themes and issues.
As disposable as the digital video in which they’re shot, thirty-something melodramas such as “Cry, Funny, Happy” are destined to be forgotten as soon as the end credits scroll past. But there will be more films just like this one.
There always are.

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