A Strange Brand of Happy (2013)

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(Originally published in LA Weekly)

You want to like A Strange Brand of Happy. After the hand-drawn, animated opening credits, there’s hope it may be a kind of Juno-esque, quirky-but-poignant indie comedy that arthouse audiences love. But try as it might, A Strange Brand of Happy is never as funny or compelling as it seems to want to be. We meet David (Joe Boyd), a 30-something guy who’s just been fired, and his roommate, Ben (Benjamin Keller), who attempts to get David back on his feet by setting him up with Joyce (Rebecca St. James), a pretty life coach he spies at a coffeehouse. Joyce convinces David to volunteer with her at a retirement home, where–surprise–David’s former boss, William (Hunter Shepard), also hangs out, in hot pursuit of Joyce. There’s also the clingy landlord who may ruin things between David and Joyce, and the question of what will finally spark David’s passion for life and work. The setup isn’t bad, but these characters are painfully generic, relying on an odd combination of stereotypes (the bartender confidante! The mischievous old man! The wisecracking but well-meaning roommate!) and interchangeable quippy dialogue. Search for subtext here and you won’t find it; everything the filmmakers want their audience to get out of A Strange Brand of Happy (hint–it has to do with God) is said out loud in any number of scenes with too much talking and not enough meaningful, original action. The most authentic moment in the film is when an unnamed character performs stirring slam poetry at Joyce’s open-mic night.

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