The special Sundance comedy Happythankyoumoreplease (read review) hit theaters this past weekend for your pleasure. There are a lot of independent films that like to dwell on the droll, mundane, sadistic or depressing side of the world, and though that exists and is something important for us to be aware, but sometimes the bigger challenge in life is being aware of all of that and still finding way to be optimistic. I can’t tell you how nice it was to see a well made, funny, interesting, well-paced independent film that was more funny than all the “mainstream”, over-hyped, forcefully unfunny comedies in theaters and with a sweeter, more honest romantic sub-plot…
We can thank the brilliant mind of Josh Radnor for this film. This was very much his brain-child, which he wrote, directed and played one of the leads in the film. We had a chance to sit down and talk with him what inspired him to make Happythankyoumoreplease and why he feels it’s so important to appreciate the positives in the world and in independent cinema.
How did you come up with the idea for the script?
I’ve always loved writing. When I was finding myself working enough to not have another job, I’d still have these cavernous hours of time. So I started writing short stories and then I started writing scripts. This was the script that really felt to me like the one that was really going to be a movie. I don’t know, it just felt like this one I was writing to make, not writing to just kill time. I had these really strong elements that I wanted to include in the movie. I wanted the movie to end with that song. I don’t know why. I didn’t know who would be singing it. I didn’t know why this person would be singing it, I just thought, “Send em out with a song, that seems like a good idea!”Then, this would probably be a happy ending movie, unless you’re doing a Scorsese thing where people are getting beat up to a really nice old standard.
I kinda worked backwards form there, I wanted to base a character on my friend Rachel, my friend who has alopecia. I had this idea about guy who was late for a meeting, getting stuck with a kid on the subway who gets separated from his parents. Then I was writing another scene about a couple arguing over New York and LA and I just kind of, like elements, like a chef, I put this different ingredients in and kind of whisked them along the way.
Is there anything about this film or the relationships your character has that are autobiographical?
There’s nothing, an ex-girlfriend of mine was wearing a kind of fancy dress in a casual setting and I said, “Where are you going, prom?” I stole teeny little bits, but nothing directly autobiographical.
Can you see bits of yourself and your life in the characters?
I think I’m in every character, I don’t think it’s just Sam. When you’re writing, you’re actually, you know, stepping into the shoes of the character and playing out “How would this feel if this person said this to me? how would I respond given all the things I’ve already established about this character?” Rather than saying I’m like Sam, it’s more like saying the movie is like me. On some level. But I’m gonna make other movies that are totally different than this movie, that will also be me. I think it’s your job to find out who it is, but it’s our job to shake that off and say “No, you’re wrong.”
Do you think this film teaches people a lot of good lessons on how to treat others?
First and foremost you just want to make a film that people enjoy. I don’t think it’s my role to teach people. Although, I’m trying to learn things as a person as I’m making these movies. It’s like I’m working myself out publicly, in a way. The thing I love about writing is I’ll hear something throughout the day or I’ll see someone and it’ll inspire something, and if I have a recepticle for it – I can put it all into the script. To me, gratitude is a really vital, important force. Kind of misunderstood on some level. I think we just live in a society that’s always telling us what’s wrong with ourselves. You know, morning paper is so alarming. First thing, here’s everything that’s going wrong! As an anecdote to that, I always want to feel like what’s going right!
There’s a really cool book called “Pronoia” by Rob Breshne who’s an astrologer but also a pretty amazing guy, really weird, mystical, poetic interesting dude. He defines “pronoia” as the opposite of paranoia, as the sneaking suspicion the universe is conspiring to shower you with blessings. It’s like this great, big thick book of awesomeness. Where you just flip through and every page makes you realize what a miracle it is that we’re even here. I’m just more inclined, even though I have the pull towards the negativity because that’s kind of culturally that’s we feel pulled – for me, it’s just better to do my work to go to the other place and encourage that and make movies about that. I feel like it’s easier to go towards the cynical, joyless place…fear-based. It requires more vigilance and work to go to that other place, but it’s so much more worth it. Nothing gets accomplished by pessimists. Like, optimists get things done.
Do you think it’s important now-a-days, where people seem to like to focus on the bad, to focus on the good? Do you think it’s important for the independent film genre, (which likes to focus on the problems in life) to do that as well?
Rob Redney has this great line I always think about, “When did hopelessness become a mark of sophistication?” Why do we think it’s more sophisticated to have everyone dead at the end? Or shaken and broken as if that somehow reflects reality. Cause that’s not my reality. My reality is people who are damaged like everyone else but doing the best they can. I surround myself with positive, interesting people. I learned this early on as a young actor — I’m not going to sit around with young actors and talk about unemployment and how hard it is to find work as an actor. Why would I want to to perpetuate that story, that’s not a good story to tell yourself?
In the same way that it’s not a good story to tell yourself how shitty we all are. We have every possibility in us, so I feel like go towards the thing that’s kinder, more compassionate, more forgiving. All those things we would most want to encourage in the world. Let’s go towards those things personally. What a cooler world it would be if we all kind of focused on that. I’m not saying I’m perfect for that, I’m a mess like everyone else.
Happythankyoumoreplease is in select theaters now!