Shortcut To Happiness

      Comments Off on Shortcut To Happiness

Shortcut To Happiness (2001) is one of those rare films where the story of its production is far more interesting than the film itself. Shortcut To Happiness was director and star Alec Baldwin’s passion project; an updated adaptation of Stephen Vincent BenĂ©t’s The Devil & Daniel Webster, inspired by Bedazzled (2000), produced with independent financing, and shot on location in New York. But Baldwin never properly finished shooting or editing the film as money problems began plaguing the production. The F.B.I. was investigating a handful of the backers for fraud, resulting in a delayed release of several years as well as Baldwin disowning his work as a director on the project.

Shortcut To Happiness may not be the film anyone wanted but it finally got a release in 2007. Critiquing a film like this, that is essentially incomplete, is always a challenge. In most cases the best one can hope for are glimpses of what could have been. Some extrapolating is always involved primarily because the executives handling the distribution of a film do not share the standards of artistic integrity of the filmmakers. However, an honest critique looks at the film as is, setting all circumstance aside to hone in on some spec of termite art.

Regrettably, Shortcut To Happiness is an all around artless affair. The only version available reveals Baldwin’s reverence for William Dieterle’s film as well as the “feel good” optimism of Frank Capra’s most popular films of the thirties. Yet, Baldwin as a cinematic stylistic seems adrift, unsure how to convey the intertextual inferences implied by both the screenplay and the actors’ choices. The film is only muddied further by the disjointed editing of semi-finished parts that prohibit any sense of a clear and coherent narrative arc.

Some scenes, particularly early on in the film, successfully evoke the sentimental dramas of the forties. But these brief scenes are only part of a larger tapestry in tatters. Baldwin’s disowned little opus must trade exclusively on the star power of the film to keep the audience watching. The film seizes every opportunity to exploit Jennifer Love Hewitt’s sex symbol status just as it relies on Anthony Hopkins to lend the drama legitimacy.

Ultimately Shortcut To Happiness feels like Alec Baldwin’s super expensive home movie. The cast is made up almost entirely of Baldwin’s chums and favorite former co-stars like some kid messing around with his friends and a camcorder on summer break. Baldwin has nothing to say as a filmmaker. Shortcut To Happiness is just a record of a Hollywood star and his buddies having a good time.