Anna (Rachel Delante) is an appealing yet reserved bookworm studying Literature in graduate school. She's in a functional yet not so satisfying relationship with the similarly studious Kevin (Jon Miguel), a good guy who is not particularly attentive. It's on a night when he's once again chosen studying over a night out with Anna, her brother (Jason Lane Fenton) and his girlfriend/her bestfriend Donna (Kerri Patterson), that she comes face-to-face with Alex (Tyler Peck). Alex is an old college buddy of her brother's, but the two have sort of gone their own separate ways since college ended.
Anna and Alex are polar opposites. Anna's in a relationship with, um yeah, the other guy.
But there's something about Alex, and despite their apparent differences sparks begin to fly and the two find themselves in a passionate affair that is destined to change both of their lives.
Whatever Makes You Happy may very well be the perfect stereotype of the ultra-indie drama, a thought-provoking piece of cinema with flaws that should prove to be distracting but for the most part don't because writer/director A.T. Sayre's story is simple yet compelling and the chemistry between Delante and Peck is believable enough to keep you invested in the story that unfolds over the course of this nearly two hour film.
If you've ever gone to an underground or truly indie film festival, then you likely have a great idea of what to expect from Whatever Makes You Happy. The real "independent" film, at least for this film critic, isn't the million dollar film that you see at Sundance or Cannes or Tribeca or any other of the well known regional film festivals but it's the often self-financed microcinema movie made for a few hundred dollars or maybe even a few thousand dollars. For this film critic, a Paramount Vantage film is still a Paramount film. A Sony Classics film is still a Sony film.
You get the idea.
Whatever Makes You Happy is the kind of film I really enjoy watching, not because it's a technical masterpiece but because it's a film borne out of a filmmaker's vision and passion and commitment and given life thanks to a cast and crew with a similar drive and commitment. There are moments in Whatever Makes You Happy where you will likely find yourself at least momentarily distracted by the inevitable impact of a low budget on lighting and, to a lesser degree, the sound mix. Whatever Makes You Happy feels right about 20 minutes too long but, if I'm being honest, I'd be hard-pressed to pick a scene that I wanted cut from the film.
Despite its flaws, and to a certain degree because of its flaws, I really enjoyed Whatever Makes You Happy. The film is about real people making real decisions and having real conversations and feeling real feelings. It's not about unnecessary drama or histrionic dialogue or the other B.S. that we've been spoon-fed in Hollywood films.
This film feels more real, at times more maddening, but more real.
It helps to have two fine performances helming the production, and Sayre is gifted with two strong performances from leads Rachel Delante and Tyler Peck. Delante does a terrific job of making Anna out to be a complex yet deeply felt character, a young woman whose intellect very much a part of who she is yet it doesn't define her. Delante avoids stereotypes, infusing Anna with a wealth of humanity amidst her introspection and intellect. Peck, on the other hand, has a bit more room to play with his character yet gives a nicely disciplined performance that balances with that of Delante quite nicely. There was a potential with Alex for stereotype, as well, but Peck's portrayal is layered and feels authentic.
Brian Leavell's original music serves as an emotionally driven companion for the film, while D.P. Kai-Jae Wang's lensing manages to create atmosphere even amidst the challenges of lensing an emotionally compelling drama on a limited budget.
Whatever Makes You Happy may have its flaws, but it's an exciting film because you feel like you're watching some truly up-and-coming talented folks putting their hearts and souls into a quality indie motion picture. While it would be unlikely that the film would ever find its way to a multiplex, it's just the type of film that fans of the indie fest circuit love to discover. The film picked up the prize for Best Film at the 2011 Treasure Coast International Film Festival and has also played at the Philadelphia Independent Film Festival, Columbia Gorge International Film Festival, Rome International Film Festival and Louisville International Festival of Film.
You'll be able to discover it soon for yourself as Sayre has lined up VOD distribution with an announcement to be made soon.
Rest assured, The Independent Critic will be keeping you up to date on this film's release.