Director Joan Carr-Wiggin’s “Happily Ever After” is like a nice slice of pound cake. It’s inoffensive, kind of bland, but still has a sweet spot every so often. Carr-Wiggin’s film is a mixture of Cameron Crowe, “Lady Bug,” and “Beautiful Girls” in where a nearing thirty year old comes back to their home town to find everything is the same as when they left it. Or perhaps maybe it isn’t. For Heather, she’s spent her life giving up looking for her happily ever after, and has found that she has come home to a town of people that are seeking their happy ending, and can’t quite admit that they’re unhappy in their current lives. When Heather goes to visit her ailing father in the hospital, she crashes in to old school mate Sarah Ann. She’s a bubbly blond classmate who is devoted to getting married and building the typical Rockwellian life of a picket fence house and comfortable marriage.
As Heather soon comes to realize, she needs these people almost as much as they need her, and soon enough she learns a lot about these individuals and how they’ve commited to lives they think they should have. The stand outs in “Happily Ever After” are Janey Montgomery and Sara Paxton, both of whom seem very one sided upon their introduction but manage to reveal whole new dimensions and tragic scars during the narration. Paxton in particular, commits to the role of bubbly blond Sarah Ann, who is hell bent on getting married and has embraced very superficial ideas about happiness and life. When she and Heather seek out a teacher from high school both women had a crush on, Heather learns a lot about her ex-friend, including the very fractured reasoning behind getting married.
Paxton has some fine moments of raucous comedy and sadness allowing her to really transform her character in to a classic picture of a high schooler trying to reclaim her glory days. Montgomery is very good as the girl who clawed her way out her town to seek change and adventure, and resents coming back to dote over her father. Soon enough she makes it her mission to pull as many people out of their ruts as possible, including her dad who basically gave up on life when her mother died. When we’re not focusing on Heather or Sarah Ann, “Happily Ever After” is pretty mediocre and saccharine, with a lot of predictable looks at the seedy underbelly of small town life, and stereotypical peeks in to unfulfilled marriage, and whatnot.
I was never really entertained during the long drawn out sub-plots involving various affairs, and I could almost see every plot twist coming from miles away. I wished Carr-Wiggin could have spent so much more time on Heather and Sarah Ann coming to grips with their past, present, and whether their future seemed promising or absolutely hollow. “Happily Ever After” is surely bland and the premise is utterly derivative, but the pros outweigh the cons with very memorable chalenging performances by Janet Montgomery and Sara Paxton, as well as memorable turns by both women.
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