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Love Me Tender: A Review of Happy Birthday

  By Sorradithep Supachanya / 2 January 2009
   
 

 

Does a man who genuinely, unconditionally, and undyingly loves his woman exist outside of fairy tales? It is a fair question for Me Myself, veteran director Pongpat Wachirabunjongs previous work with the same two leads and screenwriter. But for his latest project Happy Birthday, this is the wrong question to ask.

The plot of Happy Birthday deals with the sensitive subject of a patients right to die, a topic not commonly explored in Thai cinema. Travel magazine photographer Then (Ananda Everingham) and tour guide Pao (Chayanan Manomaisantiphap) are two youngsters madly in love. But Pao becomes a brain-dead victim of a car crash, and Then goes through denial, anger, blame, and depression before eventually accepting the situation and fantasizing her as if she is conscious and communicative (especially in the bittersweet scene where Then takes Pao shopping for cosmetics in a department store).

But the movie persistently refrains from asking the real questions. Thens career suffers as a result of his 24/7 caretaking, but what would he do if he actually loses his job and runs out of savings? And what if he encounters another woman who can make him happy for the rest of his life? Remember, Then intends to spend his life with the woman he loves, but he never signs up to take care of a brain-dead woman. Should he be entitled to a life of his own? If he chooses the alternative, does it mean that he loves her less? If she recovers, would she understand his action?

I am not suggesting what Then, or anyone in this case, should do. But I regret that the plot never explores these issues. Rather, it delves into Thens unnecessary legal battle with Paos parents who, to my complete bafflement, want to let their only daughter go even though Then is perfectly capable to take care of her.

 

 

Happy Birthday should maintain the pace, atmosphere, and chemistry of its excellent first half. The story opens with an offbeat pre-Wikitravel courtship between the two protagonists through their benign vandalism in a bookstores travel books section and their memorable getaways in the picturesque northern Thailand. The magic is pitched perfect; it puts smiles on my face. The story moves at leisure pace. The romance is believable. And Ananda and Chayanans onscreen chemistry is just right on the money.

But as the movie advances into its third act, it disintegrates into a mediocre discussion on euthanasia and an illogical intra-family legal battle. True to its plot, the movie is already dead by the end of the second act but its filmmakers just wont let go. Happy Birthday exemplifies a sweet romantic comedy gone awry in trying to become a heart-wrenching, tear-jerking drama.

   
   

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