Friday, August 6, 2021

Happythankyoumoreplease: Lower Manhattan is for Lovers

 Do you like New York in June? Do you ponder what street compares with Mott Street in July, with its pushcarts gently gliding by?  If these lyrics by Burton Lane and Lorenz Hart (from, respectively, “How About You?” and “I’ll Take Manhattan”) strike a chord, it’s because they conjure up the romance of New York City, as described by some of our greatest American lyricists. They’re not talking about the New York of glitzy skyscrapers and the big-bucks wheeler-dealers of the Stock Exchange, but rather about a place that, despite its crowds and its sometimes seedy surroundings, is an island of low-key romance.

 The movies too have often used Manhattan as a backdrop for romantic escapades. It’s not just Woody Allen: since the very beginning filmmakers have focused on love (not just sex) in the city. Examples are almost too numerous to name, but think of everything from Breakfast at Tiffany’s to Crossing Delancey to Green Card to 2019’s Rebel Wilson romp, Isn’t it Romantic. In search of lighthearted entertainment, I happened upon a 2010 Sundance award-winner that’s easy to like, even though it falls back on the clichés of falling in love, New York-style. 

Happythankyoumoreplease is a deceptively ambitious undertaking of Josh Radnor (of TV’s How I Met Your Mother), who wrote, directed, and starred in this frothy romance in which six (mostly) 20-somethings, all of them residents of Lower Manhattan, seek and find love, sometimes in unexpected places. True to the genre, there’s even some requisite L.A. bashing (see Annie Hall), with one character on the brink of making a major career move to the land of the smoggy palm. To be fair, the character who most resists the possibility of life in L.A. is perhaps its most neurotic. As Zoe Kazan’s on-screen boyfriend points out, the New York cultural monuments she can’t bear to leave behind are places she never visits.

 Along with Kazan, the screen is filled with rising young performers, some of whom have gone on to do much bigger things. Malin Akerman plays a young woman suffering from alopecia who parlays a unique sense of style into a surprising but sweet romance with Tony Hale. (The sheer unexpectedness of this odd-couple relationship, which slowly unfolds throughout the film, makes it my favorite.). Meanwhile Radnor’s struggling novelist (is there any other kind?) character is head-over-heels for would-be chanteuse Kate Mara, who’s full of regrets that she tends to give her heart (and her body) too easily. And Kazan can’t quite commit to adult-style life with budding screenwriter Pablo Schreiber.

 All these characters are talented and arty, but most seem to live alone in cramped but cozy New York apartments without the encumbrance of an actual job. That’s one of the ways this film is something of a fairytale. Also exceedingly upbeat is the relationship between Radnor’s Sam and a small Black kid he accidentally meets on the subway. It’s meant as just a soupçon of reality: Rasheen is a victim of foster care, one who’s happy to opt out of the system and just hang with the good-hearted Sam instead of being returned to the woman who’s supposed to be caring for him. Rasheen’s a likable presence, but it ultimately seems clear that reality needs to intrude on his new living situation. And so it does, for a few seconds, when Sam gets picked up by the police. But this being the kind of movie it is, the problem is quickly solved and all’s well that ends well. Which is what you expect—and maybe deserve—in a summer New York romance.

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