Anna (Rachel Delante) is in a world of couples and dinner parties. Her best friend, Donna (Kerri Patterson), is dating Anna’s brother, Steve (Jason Fenton), and Anna herself is in a long term relationship with Kevin (Jon Miguel). Which is part of the problem, as they’ve been together long enough for Anna to start to feel annoyed by the little things that Kevin does, and Kevin is usually too busy to do anything social with Anna’s friends.
The dynamic in friendships and relationships drastically changes, however, when Steve’s musician friend from college, Alex (Tyler Peck), finds his way into their orbit. From the get go, Alex is intrigued with Anna and, after some behavior that borders on stalker-lite, makes his move and kisses her. Which she responds to, and from their affair is kindled.
A.T. Sayre’s Whatever Makes You Happy, which according to IMDb is based on Anna Karenina (makes sense to me), follows the affair, and its fallout for the group of friends, in a modern and realistic way. Which at times is both refreshing and boring. Let me explain…
While it is absolutely true, in today’s day and age, that communication is often conducted by text, Facebook message, email or the like, it is still not terribly entertaining to watch people engage in such activities in a film. Whatever Makes You Happy has moments where we see Alex torn over sending a friend request that has gone unrequited, or working on an email where he’s unsure what to say. Again, perfectly understandable, reasonable and realistic, but also not remotely engaging for an audience to watch.
So there’s that aspect of the film, a commitment to exploring the relationship of Anna and Alex, leaving few mundane stones unturned. I get that, and I respect that but, coupled with a near two hour running time, it feels indulgent and unnecessary. This is a film that could easily tell its story with less breadth, especially considering how low the stakes seem.
Sure, Anna is cheating on her long term relationship, but she also isn’t married, and is very young. What she’s risking is comfort, and some of her friends thinking poorly of her, but not much else. Alex? He’s making a few decisions that undermine his expressed interest in pursuing music with his band, but other than that, he doesn’t seem to have much to lose by having the affair either. So, ultimately, we have a film, a lot of it, where two young people risk very little to be together.
That being said, Rachel Delante and Tyler Peck do carry the film; not engaging with the story has nothing to do with their performances being poor. They do great work fleshing out characters that are pretty thin, and that’s not their fault. I can understand why the filmmakers would want to have so much footage of these two actors working.
Overall, though, Whatever Makes You Happy wasn’t for me. Again, this is realistic and this is life. But why should I care about Anna, or Alex, or even what Anna does to Kevin? I don’t, and that’s my biggest problem with Whatever Makes You Happy. I understood where it was coming from, but I didn’t care. Part of that is my fault, and part of that is the film’s fault.
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