Happy Hour

Director-cowriter Mike Bencivenga and Richard Levine's sharply written, flawlessly acted feature evokes the giddy highs and stygian lows of an alcoholic writer who's used up his second chances. A dilettantish novelist and deeply disciplined drinker, Tulley (Anthony LaPaglia) wastes his days in "drudgery's cathedral" — a midtown-Manhattan advertising...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Director-cowriter Mike Bencivenga and Richard Levine's sharply written, flawlessly acted feature evokes the giddy highs and stygian lows of an alcoholic writer who's used up his second chances. A dilettantish novelist and deeply disciplined drinker, Tulley (Anthony LaPaglia) wastes his days in "drudgery's cathedral" — a midtown-Manhattan advertising firm where he edits the dribblings of semiliterate copywriters and makes no bones about his disdain for their efforts — and his nights in a liquor-soaked haze. He starts out with best friend Levine (Eric Stoltz) at his side, but Levine's a lightweight who knows his limits, while Tulley's an Olympic-caliber drinker. He's not a mean drunk or a sloppy one; he's never had a hangover or woken up in a gutter. But he's an unrepentant alcoholic nonetheless, and the love of schoolteacher Natalie (Caroleen Feeney) isn't going to come between Tulley and the bottom of a bottle. Which is fine, until a minor-league tussle with a bad drunk upsets the fragile balance of Tulley's health and starts him on a downward path that can't possibly end anywhere good. Books and movies are full of charming drunks who bear little resemblance to real-life boozers; the genius of LaPaglia's performance is that his perfectly calibrated Tulley embodies the best and the worst of world-class drinkers. He's witty, adventurous and a hell of a lot of fun, but he's also in thrall to an insidious addiction that's slowly eroding the invisible foundations he doesn't even realize are holding up life. Even his voice-over is pitch-perfect; it starts out jauntily jazzed, drunk on neon and New York streets, and slides almost imperceptibly into doom-haunted melancholy. By the time he purrs "That was my high point," lightly kissing Natalie's hand in between an impromptu jam with a bar band and his fateful run-in with destiny, it's pure, sozzled heartbreak. Stoltz and Feeney match LaPaglia scene for scene, and Bencivenga elicits strong supporting performances from Sandrine Holt as Tulley's boss, writer Malachy McCourt as his mentor and Robert Vaughn as his remote, disapproving father, the successful writer whose long, cold shadow slowly asphyxiated Tulley's promising literary career. Shot on location in Manhattan, the film is steeped in understated New York City ambiance and discreetly tinted by Jeffrey M. Taylor's subtle score.

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Director-cowriter Mike Bencivenga and Richard Levine's sharply written, flawlessly acted feature evokes the giddy highs and stygian lows of an alcoholic writer who's used up his second chances. A dilettantish novelist and deeply disciplined drinker, Tulley… (more)

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