Happy Hour is a drama written by Richard Levine and Mike Bencivenga and directed by Bencivenga. It premiered at the Sonoma Film Festival in April 2003 and won several awards in 2004, among them the Prism Award, the Audience Award at the Florida Film Festival, and several awards for Anthony LaPaglia (Outstanding Achievement Award at the Newport Beach Festival, Prism Award for best performance, and Best Actor at the Verona Screens Film Festival). The film was released on DVD in 2006.
Tulley, a self-proclaimed ‘drinker with a writing problem,’ struggles to finish his stalled novel while working at a dead end job in a New York City ad agency. Teamed with his best friend and drinking buddy Levine, Tulley parties away his nights to try to forget the writer’s block that plagues him. In his favourite watering hole, one night Tulley meets Natalie, a strong willed school teacher, and an unlikely affair begins. She matches him drink for drink, wisecrack for wisecrack, and quietly challenges him to fulfill his promise just as the toll of too many drunken nights begins to catch up with him. With his life and health at a turning point, Tulley sets out to finish his book before his years for carousing finish him.
Anthony LaPaglia (Tulley), Eric Stoltz (Levine), Caroleen Feeney (Natalie), Robert Vaughn (Tulley Sr.), Sandrine Holt (Bonnie), Thomas Sadoski (Scott), Mario Cantone (Geoffrey), Malachy McCourt (Dr. Pitcoff), Michael Mulheren (Kelly), Miriam Sirota (Rachel), Sam Breslin Wright (Chris), Randy Evans (Dave)
DVD ON AMAZON: Happy Hour
LaPaglia’s Tulley is a man of missed promise, whose every drink keeps him about a half-step ahead of his abject self-loathing, with his wit and panache apparent only as long as the high lasts. Though perhaps looking a bit too hale for the part of a broken-down drunk, Lapaglia’s weary, wary eyes and his whiskey-and-cigarettes timbre convey the essence of addiction. Whether charming bar mates, chewing out underlings, or suffering the ravages of the DTs, LaPaglia’s ability to convey Tulley’s increasingly darkening colors is impressive.
As Levine, Stoltz imbues the stock sidekick role with a sardonic outlook and great hair. Never judging his friend, Levine regards Tulley with a combination of admiration and sadness, knowing where Tulley’s been and where he’s headed. Underplaying, but still making an impression, Stoltz gives LaPaglia the room to make Tulley the big dog.
The real revelation in Happy Hour is Caroleen Feeney. Eschewing theatrics, Feeny makes Natalie a real, gritty, sexy woman. Awakened from her alcoholic torpor by another drinker, Natalie slowly emerges as a woman with more to look forward to than the next drink. As Natalie’s smoky cynicism melts away, Feeny shows a vulnerability that is affecting and ultimately heartbreaking.
Happy Hour’s modest charms lie in its ability to take an old tale and spiff it up with creditable performers. Despite some location shooting, though, it doesn’t really convey the thump and buzz of New York City. Populating one scene with New York writers Pete Hamill and Steve Dunleavy may seem authentic, but their appearances come out of nowhere, and serve merely as stunt cameos.
Wellspring’s spartan packaging of Happy Hour belies the wealth of extras on the disc. Director Bencivenga’s commentary is informative and sprightly, offering extensive background on the production. Along with the requisite deleted scenes, there’s also an excellent three-minute “Shot by Shot” segment which spotlights the film’s New York locations and reveals some exterior footage actually shot in L.A. — DVDVerdict.com
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