When it comes to movies about guys who insist on drinking themselves to death, Leaving Las Vegas still sets a pretty high standard. But Happy Hour, which is set in Manhattan, the town named after a drink (or is it the other way around?), deserves at least an honorable mention, probably more than that. It's not as romanticized a look at the lush life as Leaving Las Vegas was; nobody's on an all-night date with oblivion. But it has a nice feeling for the way you can take one swig after another until your whole life stretches out not before you but behind you.
Anthony LaPaglia, finally getting the exposure he deserves on CBS's "Without a Trace," stars as Tully, a copy editor at an advertising agency who's supposedly writing a novel on the side. Alas, something always gets in the way, usually the bar on the corner - any corner. Then, just before Tully's liver calls it quits, he meets Natalie (Caroleen Feeney), a schoolteacher who can run up a tab with the best of them, and who manages not to fill Tully with disgust the morning after. She even gets along with Tully's office mate and fellow glass-tipping writer, Levine (Eric Stoltz).
The rapport between these three actors is so smooth and comfortable that it carries you over the movie's rough spots, as when Tully has it out with his father (Robert Vaughn), a writer so successful he lunches with Pete Hamill (as himself) at the Algonquin. We don't need a psychological explanation for why Tully drinks. It's enough to know that, if he had to do it all over again, he probably would. Did I mention that the movie's funny? Tully's satiric jabs at the world around him and his own pathetic place in it belong in his novel. Instead, they're just jokes about a guy who goes into a bar.