Regardless of the questions raised by her presence, Julia is here now, availing of the NHS in her time of need after being diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. (There’s commentary in the idea of a wealthy American choosing a humble English clinic over a famous American hospital, but this movie isn’t that astute. Instead, it makes an excuse about Julia doing a play in the West End.) At first, she’s upset that the hospital doesn’t have private rooms, because she is very famous and needs her privacy. She makes some loud, rude phone calls to this effect, causing the three women sitting in the common area to grin and giggle like the mischievous cancer elves that they are. A transformative afternoon is afoot.
The only really likable element of the film is its supporting cast, led by reliable British character actresses Miriam Margoyles and Sally Phillips. (Both have too many credits to recount here, but you’ll know them when you see them.) They play Judy and Mikey, salt-of-the-earth types instantly doomed to supporting status once the more glamorous Julia walks in. “Sex Education’s” Rakhee Thakrar co-stars as Imaan, the youngest patient in Judy and Mikey’s chemotherapy coffee klatsch; Imaan was 26 and pregnant when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, but her arc is limited by the writer’s and directors’ blinkered ideas about Muslim women.
Co-director Sharon Maymom won an Academy Award for the short film “Skin,” one of the more controversial winners in recent memory—not least because of its clumsy grasp on racial politics. Thankfully, that element is relatively light here. But “My Happy Ending” makes plenty of bad decisions in other areas. The screenplay is especially clunky: The exposition and dialogue are ineptly handled, so much so that a character will be completely ignorant of a topic in one scene and speak confidently about it in the next. The snappy Hollywood insider talk coming from Julia’s devoted manager Nancy (Tamsin Grieg), rings false, and the film declares rather than demonstrates that Julia’s presence has changed everyone’s life for the better. MacDowell, for her part, purses her lips to look concerned and softens her eyes until they’re full of benevolent tears.