Tom Arnold

He turns serious in Happy Endings.

The words "Tom Arnold" and "indie film" wouldn't seem to fit in the same sentence, yet he turns out to be one of the pleasant surprises of Happy Endings (see review), which he discussed during a recent visit to Seattle. Though fidgety and friendly in person, he's much more calm in the film, an openhearted guy who almost doesn't seem to mind that he's being hustled by Maggie Gyllenhaal's gold digger. His widowed character, Frank, is also an ambivalent father to his 22-year-old son, Otis—loving, but not fully paternal or mature in his own right, as Arnold explains: "I mean they're close, but they're not close. You first see Frank and he's the stereotypical guy in his 40s who dates 20-year-olds and spends money on them, and there's no substance in those relationships." Nor is there bitterness when they inevitably end. In a kind of midfilm postscript, writer-director Don Roos makes clear that the Gyllenhaal character actually leaves Frank in a better place, that he'll remember her fondly. It's a generous part for a generous character. Arnold continues: "She actually brings my son and I together, and I have to be a father. It was easy to play. Don, when he gave me the script, he said, 'I wrote this for you. There's a little bit of you in here.' I remember reading it and saying to my wife, 'You know, that's weird, this guy dates younger women and buys them stuff.' And I looked at my wife, and she was 28 at the time, and I said, 'Oh.'" Is Frank a little too close to Otis and his young friends, more the indulgent friend than father? Arnold tends to agree. "I don't want to be my kids' friend," he says. "I'll be there for them, but they only got one dad. I see people with their kids who can't say 'no.' I know their kids are gonna end up in rehab." In a sense, for Frank to accept his son's being gay means accepting his role as parent. Says Arnold, "Obviously, the gay thing is bothering him, which I understand. You just want your son's life to be easy." And society being what it is, life isn't always easy for a young gay man. That certainly doesn't make Frank a homophobe, as Roos' explanatory title cards make clear. Did that text-on-screen device appeal to Arnold? "It did, because you have so many characters in this movie. It's an ensemble of so many stories. I personally want to know what's going on with everybody and how things turn out. Through that device you learn that these very damaged characters, these gray characters—you understand why they got that way. By watching the movie more than once, I've learned by rereading things, you do pick up some humor and nice moments."

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