Happythankyoumoreplease juggles several plots (too many plots), but its principal one goes something like this: An appealingly immature white thirtysomething befriends a poor black child and is predictably enriched by the experience. Essentially writer/director/star Josh Radnor recasts the William Hurt story from Paul Auster’s Smoke screenplay with scruffier beards, twee indie folk, and a less articulate preteen foil (Radnor’s Sam is, like Hurt’s Paul, a writer; his youthful charge is named Rasheen, recalling that character’s similarly named counterpart in the earlier film, Rashid). On his way to a meeting with a publisher, Sam spots the kid ditching his foster mother on the subway. After his failed efforts to turn Rasheen in to the police and other city agencies, Sam takes pity on the boy who desperately wants to escape the foster system and lets him crash at his apartment for several days, during which, despite exchanging a minimum of words, the two reach some sort of friendly understanding.
Forestalling criticism of the film’s problematic setup, Sam’s friend Mary Catherine (Zoe Kazan) chastises him for keeping the kid in his apartment without contacting the authorities, accusing him of using Rasheen as “material” for his novel. “Sensitive white guy takes in small black child,” she sums up the situation, but whether or not this pithy formulation adequately characterizes Sam’s intentions (and there is reason to believe that, at least, initially, Sam’s interest in Rasheen is largely writerly), it certainly sums up Radnor’s interest in the boy. An essentially mute character with no discernible personality, but a nascent artistic talent whose nurturing serves to provide Sam with a mission, the kid is there essentially to trigger his guardian’s impending maturity. The fact of his race is used chiefly as a signifier of his increased need for help from a white protector and lest one think that Rasheen’s blackness is merely incidental, Radnor dismisses that possibility by having his character continually refer to him in racial terms as when he flippantly informs a potential sex partner, “There might be a small black child sleeping on my couch.” But since, given his insistent passivity, that “small black child” barely scans as an actual presence on screen, when he largely disappears from the film’s second half as Radnor turns his attention instead to the three main adult characters’ romantic issues, we scarcely register his absence.
The other two primary characters, Mary Catherine and Sam’s other friend Annie (Malin Åkerman), each have their own problems (the former’s boyfriend wants her to move from New York to L.A. just as she learns she’s pregnant, while the latter, suffering from a rare disease that leaves her bald, struggles with her self-image), but their situations are dealt with as cursorily as Sam’s relationship with both Rasheen and a potential girlfriend. Too disjointed to accumulate any kind of emotional charge, there’s little to suggest that the three narrative strands belong in the same movie, no matter how many times Radnor cuts between the trio in fatuous montages set to Jaymay’s singer-songwriter goop, or has his characters verbalize the virtues of loving and being loved. A couple of sharp lines of dialogue (“I’m so sick of optimism; it’s fucking exhausting”) and Tony Hale’s winning characterization of an improbably straightlaced suitor who woos the “quirky” Annie save the movie from total disaster, but the horribly disjointed nature of Radnor’s undertaking can’t hide the fact that the film’s principal project is to trade in questionable racial characterization as a catalyst for its white protag’s personal fulfillment.