Not much happens in this sweet-tempered, small-scale romantic comedy--college boy meets, loses, and wins back college girl--yet the film is surprisingly touching and amusing, almost in spite of itself. As the film opens, Chris (Patrick Dempsey) leaves his Chicago home for an unnamed Los
Angeles university (the exteriors resemble USC), where he is to study playwrighting. Arriving on campus, he finds that roommate Alex has moved in six days previously, decorating their room in pastel plastic backyard kitsch, complete with an inflatable wading pool. The reason for the wading pool
soon becomes obvious when Alex turns out to be Alexandra (Helen Slater), who uses the pool in lieu of the showers in the otherwise all-male dormitory. An over-the-top cross between Auntie Mame and Holly Golightly, Alex is an aspiring actress who turns everything in her life into high drama,
causing her to clash immediately with Chris, whose only interest is in quietly burying himself in his books and writing. Chris immediately applies for a room change, but during the three weeks required to make the change, he is won over by Alex's high spirits, not to mention her boudoir wardrobe,
which has been heavily influenced by Frederick's of Hollywood. When his replacement roommate arrives, Chris puts on a dress, which sends the new guy packing. Yet the romantic road is anything but smooth for Chris and Alex. Chris learns firsthand the problems that come with being in love with a
sexy, provocative woman like Alex. When she wears a fetching strapless gown out to dinner with Chris, every man in the restaurant buys her drinks. Later, Alex earns $3,000 at a charity kissing booth, along with an unsavory reputation, which further alienates Chris. Still, Chris comes to Alex's
rescue when budding rock star Slash (Kevin Hardesty, a dead ringer for Sal Mineo), to whom Alex frivolously became engaged before he took off for an extended working trip to Europe, returns to claim her hand. The rocker relinquishes Alex's hand, but not before breaking Chris' arm. Alex and Chris'
relationship reaches its climactic crisis when Chris' convalescence interrupts his studies, forcing him to cheat on a final exam. When the cheating is discovered, Chris is suspended. Will Alex drop out to support him while he struggles to start his writing career in New York City? Do bears sleep
in the woods?
HAPPY TOGETHER continually teeters toward cliches that threaten to (but never quite) deflate the story, most of them, like the standard-issue hard-drinking, macho playwrighting instructor (THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY's Marius Weyers) and the no-nonsense acting teacher (Barbara Babcock), drawn from the
drama school setting. The best that can be said about these cliched characters is that they serve primarily to keep the plot going. Weyers' writing-instructor character shocks Chris out of his bookishness by giving him D minuses until the young would-be playwright goes out and lives life.
Meanwhile, Babcock's stern taskmaster conveniently highlights Alex's character flaw--"acting" her feelings rather than "feeling" them. The art-as-therapy theme is as bogus here as it has ever been, but the acting talents of Weyers and Babcock at least make their characters far less irritating than
they might have been.
HAPPY TOGETHER succeeds generally because of the skill and conviction of its cast, especially that of Dempsey and Slater. Slater takes an initially grating, annoying character and, without drawing undue attention to her transformation, gradually gives Alex a depth and poignancy that seduce the
audience as much as Chris. Faced with the flamboyance of Slater's Alex, Dempsey has little to do much of the time but be her straight man. Nevertheless, he manages to find a basic reality in his character that gives Chris, no less than Alex, an unexpected depth.
Credit also Craig J. Nevius' script for avoiding the obvious most of the time. A less inspired writer would have gotten far more snickering mileage out of Alex's residency in an all-male dorm. Here it merely illustrates Alex's individualism. Also credit Mel Damski's brisk, breezy direction, which
makes its points without pounding them too hard. The funny supporting work from Hardesty and Dan Schneider also helps make HAPPY TOGETHER a frothy confection that may not change the history of cinema as we know it, but that does provide a couple of easygoing hours of old-fashioned, screwball
entertainment. (Adult situations.)
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