Photo courtesy of Indiecan Pictures

“Ever since I was a little girl, I knew exactly what my life would look like: I’d meet the man of my dreams and we’d have everything in common,” announces Tracy, a wide-eyed, fresh transplant to Los Angeles, in the opening of The Happys, a new release on DVD and V.O.D. from Indican Pictures. “In ninth grade, I met Mark Lewis. He was perfect! I’d do whatever it takes to make us happy.”

The film, which was a hit on the festival circuit last year, takes its name from a vibrant, offbeat, and historic bedroom community called Los Feliz – situated just west of Los Angeles and east of Hollywood. Tracy’s landlord, Luann, tells her that, strictly translated, “Los Feliz” means “The Happys.” Consequently, Luann refers to both the area and those who live in it as simply “The Happys.”

The movie was filmed largely on location, and the cinematography by Philips Shum is frequently breathtaking as we watch various stories unfold in the neighborhood.

Few, though, are as fanciful or oddly fortuitous as Tracy’s. Just 21 years old, she exults over how she has everything she ever wanted, even rejoicing that “Now all that’s left to do is live happily ever after.”

Photo courtesy of Indiecam Pictures

Take a closer look, though, and you see that our young heroine is a dutiful girlfriend to the point of being co-dependent. She even brings home-cooked meals to her boyfriend, Mark, on the set when he’s shooting on location. Watch what happens when she walks in on Mark — a teen matinee idol in the making – while he’s getting it on with one of his male costars.

Afterward, their relationship understandably deteriorates rapidly, but Tracy’s world blossoms when she befriends the quirky residents in her new neighborhood. She puts her strong cooking skills to use and discovers her own sense of self and purpose. Eventually, she becomes a catalyst that forces everyone around her to grow and connect with one another in unforeseen ways.

Janeane Garofalo, in one of her most empathetic roles, plays the couple’s landlord Luann, and Melissa McBride of The Walking Dead is Mark’s aggressive agent.

Writer/directors Tom Gould and John Serpe are unabashedly proud and exuberant about the film.

“This is having a life dream fulfilled!” Gould says. “Both John and I have wanted to do this particular movie for a long time — but to make a movie in general for an even longer time!”

Serpe and Gould explain that their inspiration came from the period when they were both living in LA after having been roommates back in New York. “We both ended up moving to LA right about the same time” after they both had encouraged each other to do so, Serpe said. They ended up living in the Los Feliz and Silver Lake neighborhoods, which are next to each other, he said.

“A lot of the movie is based on some of the experiences we had while we were living there or people that we met while living there, and just the overall vibe of that neighborhood and this kind of melting pot that it is,” Serpe said.

Gould says his inspiration for Tracy came from a woman he had been involved with years ago.

“I perceived that she was always ‘finding herself’ by the men she was with,” he says. “After me, there was this other guy, then this other guy – and so on. And she just didn’t know who she was when she wasn’t with a man. So I was very interested in telling a story about this woman who learns to define herself on her own terms, and not the terms she’d been raised by, as Tracy eventually does here.”

Amanda Bauer plays Tracy, and Jack DePew is Mark, the idealistic young lovers who leave the comfort and familiarity of their Michigan home so Mark can pursue his burgeoning acting career. Already, he has a role in “the next BIG teen movie.”

They move into a small bungalow in the Los Feliz neighborhood, where they meet a collection of eccentric characters who will change their lives.

Luann is a slightly-past-her-prime former sitcom star who bought several houses in the neighborhood using her residual checks. She befriends Tracy and in many ways serves as her guide, advising her at a key point: “It’s not about where you live. It’s about what you do with this life!”

Luann secretly burns for one of her more unusual tenants—an enigmatic, reclusive sun worshipper named Sebastian. Played by Rhys Ward, he is an agoraphobic artist (“I’m actually a graphic designer,” he confesses to Tracy. “It’s nice. … I get to work alone.”) He mostly shuns the outdoors, but does enjoy soaking up the LA sunshine and working on his tan — provided he does it totally alone and in the sanctity of his own backyard. Tracy dares to breach his solitude, and a friendship develops between them.

Arturo del Puerto also makes his mark as Ricky, a good-natured, financially struggling Latin food-truck operator. Always chasing the next big food fad, his truck specializes in fusion food, such as “Terri-acos,” a melding of teriyaki and tacos.

Tracy isn’t the only one making new connections. Stephen Guarino plays Jonathan, Mark’s openly gay co-star, who, at least until they’re found out, has something secret going on with our future celebrity.

“Look, there are two kinds of gay guys in Hollywood,” Jonathan informs Mark between hits on a joint being passed around. “There are guys like me, who wear it as a badge of honor, and then there are these closet cases, who are so afraid that if they’re ever found out, they’re never gonna get another part.”

“You should listen up,” their director counsels Jonathan, snidely indicating the growing talk about his sexuality. “You’re exactly the type of pretty boy/sexy stud people start gossiping about!”

Everyone here is impressive, but the narrative soars largely due to Bauer’s incredible – and identifiable –performance.

“For me, the happiest part of being in ‘The Happys’ is all the amazing people that were a part of the film,” Bauer says. “I really enjoyed the script — and I remember being excited to have an opportunity to portray so many different feelings and experiences with this character.”

She notes that she is “actually from the Midwest and definitely have that general vibe and temperament. It also helped in getting me in touch with who Tracy is and what she was feeling. I have no doubt that this also attributed to my being able to play Tracy so effectively.”

DePew also buoyantly talks about what an enjoyable experience he had making the movie.

“The opportunity to share a complicated, lonely, young closeted gay man’s truth as he tries to navigate his way in Hollywood … was what really excited me about Mark and the journey he’s taken on,” he says. “I fell in love with this character … and did my best to bring him to life.”

When Mark can lie no more, he finally schedules an interview with a reporter from People magazine to come out before shooting has even wrapped on his new film.

On the way to this potentially career-altering decision, the film expresses some seldom-discussed, but unsettling truths about being out and proud in the industry today.

What does DePew himself feel are the benefits and liabilities that remain when it comes to disclosing one’s sexual preferences or gender identity in the entertainment industry today?

“I believe sexual orientation is a private thing,” he says. “If you choose to share it publicly, professionally, that’s utterly your own prerogative — and should be your prerogative. That said, if you choose to be an actor, I believe you should just strive to be a great actor. Don’t strive to be a great gay actor. I mean, your identity doesn’t matter when you’re playing a character. You as the actor have to be able to separate yourself from the character. I also believe that those actors who can do that honestly and gracefully will succeed in the long run.”

Both performers say they were familiar with Los Feliz long before making the movie.

“I grew up in LA., so I know Los Feliz like the back of my hand – and have since I was a teenager!” DePew says.

Bauer says she had lived in Los Angeles for close to eight years before being approached about the film and had friends who lived in the Los Feliz area. “It’s absolutely, by far, one of my favorite neighborhoods in LA.”

One specific location that the filmmakers used may feel strangely familiar for sharp-eyed movie fans — John Marshall High School in Los Angeles. Numerous other projects have been set there, most notably the carnival scene at the end of the big-screen musical Grease in 1978.

The school’s expansive playing field is where Serpe and Gould chose to set Mark’s adolescent “film-within-a-film” for his scenes on location.

“Although we didn’t consciously frame any set-ups to make them deliberately reference or mimic those, or the location’s notoriety, I do think that the spirt is alive nonetheless in those scenes.”

Serpe says that another location was purposely chosen for its philosophical resonance: the Mattachine Steps, a local LGBT landmark in the Silver Lake district.

“We purposely chose the Mattachine Steps’ for when Mark has that difficult run up the outdoor stairway,” Serpe says, “because the Mattachine Society [for which the stairs were named] met at a house there at the top to discuss how to promote gay rights back in the 1950s and ’60s. So we thought it would be really cool to shoot that scene on those stairs as he’s feeling very conflicted over his sexuality.”

Through it all, there’s a prevailing message of how we’re all interconnected, making the locale of the title serve as an allegory for the world at large. Tracy even describes it at one point early on, proclaiming: “Los Feliz is like a small town in a big city — everyone is so nice!”

This is a message that the film’s creators were eager to explore.

“Organic connection is something that I feel is slipping away in our society,” Gould contends. “And Los Angeles is a lonely place. Community, a real sense of community, is hard to come by there, so we wanted to write about people forming one because it seemed less common, less likely there.”

Serpe concurs, observing, “As humans, we’re all looking for love. We’re all looking for someone to love us — to be loved and to give love as well. But I think that often in our quest for love, we fail to take a step back and have that much needed ‘self-love.’ In this movie, that’s precisely what many of the characters have to do — look at themselves, see who they truly are, and what they truly want, and then become people who are ‘complete’ by themselves … and then, are better able to look for and find love.”

He quickly adds that the theme of Tracy’s finding herself is also applicable to the other characters — Mark, for example: “He has to go through a similar journey, although his is about finally admitting to himself and then to the world that he’s gay.”

Serpe and Gould forgo a tidy or stereotypically happy ending for one that is more realistic, but still optimistic and hopeful enough.

“I’d love for people to take away from the film that it’s always important to be yourself,” Bauer concludes. “And that genuine happiness is being yourself – and embracing yourself – and not succumbing to what anyone else thinks you should do or be.”

DePew also leans toward the philosophical when considering his hopes for The Happys on DVD: “When you display humanity and vulnerability on screen, people can’t help but empathize – and that, in my opinion, is the first steps to bringing people together. My deepest hope is that this film carries on doing just that!”

Now available on DVD and digital V.O.D. across all major platforms, including Amazon.com (https://goo.gl/cBE6j8), iTunes (https://goo.gl/aZp8G7), and Google Play (https://goo.gl/rSSgak). To see the trailer, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHonleCBQ2c. Or like the movie on Facebook at /a>

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