By Nora Chang
“The Happy Sad,” an indie film set in New York City, thoughtfully examines the bisexuality and monogamy that is now prevalent in today’s relationships among people in early adulthood. The title is fascinating in that it oxymoronically captures two opposite emotions, just as the film juxtaposes the lives of two men who stand on the extreme end of racial and sexual spectrums — one gay and black, and the other straight and white. The former, Marcus, has been in a committed relationship with his longtime boyfriend, who agrees to try an open relationship. The latter, Stan, is a struggling musician who just broke up with his relatively new girlfriend. As his ex-girlfriend exposes her feelings for a woman, Stan experiments with his once-dormant curiosity towards people of his gender as well.
For a film with a running time of an hour and a half, nothing much happens. Couples fight, break up, and get back together. Perhaps the point was to authentically capture the unnecessary complexity of a contemporary relationship. Unlike most other films that deal with LGBT themes, “The Happy Sad” naturally blends in the homosexuality and bisexuality to a setting we are all familiar with regardless of our own sexual identifications. It refrains from making any type of activist statement, but rather provides an objective look on the struggles of open relationships with close intimacy. While this approach may have helped provide a less caricatured story about a gay romance than ones generally favored by the media, the minimalism comes off slightly pretentious and awfully boring.
Unfortunately, the film’s flaws do not end here. The lives of all these characters interweave all too well with one another — it’s all simply too convenient. Of course Stan’s ex-girlfriend and her new experimental partner are about to board the train just as he gets off. Conveniently, Marcus runs into them with his long-term boyfriend, pivotally escalating the tension and reinforcing the fact that these scenes are scripted. In addition, it feels too convenient that every heterosexual character in the film has a bi-curious side that prompts the amorous webs of monogamy in the first place. We must work hard to overlook these unlikely situations to let the emotional poignancy of the narrative resonate with us.
Judging by its distribution by IFC and its exploration of potentially controversial topics, the film looks to have a narrow audience of mostly older, liberal viewers. It is not a film that normally would not do well among college students. However, the community at NYU and other schools in the New York City district would probably react positively to it. The scenes in Brooklyn and the various subway shots are so pleasantly familiar. A lot of the dialogues regarding coming to terms with our identities must be personally cathartic for many young viewers.
Ultimately, it is unclear what kind of moviegoer would enjoy “The Happy Sad.” We’ve all experienced these quotidian situations before. Why go to the movies to see them?
Nora Chang is a contributing writer. Email her at email@example.com.