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By Merle Bertrand | October 24, 2003

Every hour is happy hour, as far as Tulley (Anthony LePaglia) is concerned. A wisecracking ad agency copy editor by day and an underachieving, self-described “drinker with a writing problem” by night, Tulley spends the bulk of his leisure time nursing his sorrows at a neighborhood watering hole with his co-worker and fellow aspiring writer Levine (Eric Stoltz). When Tulley meets Natalie (Caroleen Feeney) at the bar one night, their night of drunken debauchery turns into something much more long-lasting when the sun comes up and the hangovers — or at least Natalie’s, as Tulley never gets hangovers — dissipate. A smart, sassy and sexy schoolteacher with a taste for vodka and cranberries, it seems that Natalie just might be Tulley’s dream girl. Yet, she may have arrived in Tulley’s life too late, as the reckless alcoholic is clearly on a path of self-destruction. As Levine silently pines for his buddy’s girlfriend, realizing only belatedly his friend’s dire straits, Tulley blithely ignores both their concerns…until he comes face to face with his own imminent mortality.
Director Mike Bencivenga takes what could so easily have been a trite, cliche-riddled melodrama and instead, somehow turns it into…well, a wry and moving melodrama. This is due in no small part to the substantial, if necessarily understated heft given to the roles of Tulley and Levine by LePaglia and Stoltz, respectively. While Stoltz plays the loyal, happy-go-lucky sidekick to perfection, his Ralph Kramden-esque partner, probably best known for his current gritty stint on the network drama “Without A Trace,” growls out a certain gruffly cynical charisma. LePaglia’s gravelly, wonderfully poetic voiceovers also provide just enough background information to help advance the story, especially once we realize, in a well-handled narrative device, that what we’re watching is, in essence, the screen adaptation of Tulley’s novel.
There are a few watered-down drinks in “Happy Hour.” Some lines sound a little forced, for instance, as if they looked better on paper than they sound in the movie. Additionally, the subplot involving the boys’ sexy supervisor and her brown-nosing assistant feel a little tacked on, as does the one-dimensional villainry provided by Tulley’s father (Robert Vaughn).
Still, though far from perfect, “Happy Hour” provides enough tragi-comedy to make the viewer feel like drowning their own sorrows…while laughing to lift their spirits.

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