“There are no statistics for hearts opened or wounds healed”

How I Met Your Mother and Rise star Josh Radnor on life’s unexpected connections.

“There are no statistics for hearts opened or wounds healed”

Illustration: Kiersten Essenpreis

Jason Mraz’s 2012 “The Freedom Song” is a cover of a track by the Seattle-based band Luc and the Lovingtons. In May of 2013, Felipe Canete, a member of that band, passed away suddenly from a heart condition. He was 37, married with a 1-year-old son.

A few months later, I was invited to a memorial jamboree celebrating his life at Jason’s house north of San Diego. Milling about waiting for everyone to arrive, I met Felipe’s widow, Katy, who insisted we’d met before. As you can imagine, this is an occupational hazard—after eight seasons of How I Met Your Mother, I’d gotten used to people insisting we’d gone to summer camp together. But Katy had never heard of the show, and I didn’t want to recite my résumé, so we just dropped it and migrated to the performance area.

The evening was beautiful. Luc and the Lovingtons emerged in a kind of tribal conga line to kick off the festivities. In the stories people shared, Felipe came across as loving, passionate and wonderfully spirited. There was something in the way people talked about him that made me certain we’d have been friends had we met.

As the night was winding down, Katy came up to me with a smile of relief on her face. “Happythankyoumoreplease …” she said. “You did that movie.”

“Yes,” I said. “That was Felipe’s favorite movie. We watched it all the time. If anyone asked, that’s the movie he’d recommend.”

I was stunned. Happythankyoumoreplease was the first film I wrote and directed. Despite winning audience awards at nearly every festival we played, it didn’t light up the box office. This made me heartsick for a time, but as years passed, people kept discovering it and recommending it, and telling me how deeply it had affected them. No less than three women have told me that a pivotal scene convinced them to give a man with whom they were underwhelmed a second chance, resulting in marriage.

Our metric for success, it seems to me, is off. The sole equation that carries weight is economic. There are no reliable statistics for “hearts opened” or “wounds healed.” But a good film seen at the right moment can do both of those things. The two movies I’ve made (Liberal Arts is the other) aren’t mythic battles between good and evil. They’re about good people getting better at being themselves. They’re modest in scale and grand—I think—in emotional-spiritual ambition.

So there I was, hearing that this man I’d never met—but spent an evening celebrating and getting to know—dearly loved my film. It felt like Felipe and I had met in some liminal cosmic space and shared a hug.

You make a film with the best of intentions and the loftiest of hopes, and at a certain point, you send it out into the world, like a message in a bottle, and hope it washes up on the right shores. I’m grateful my film found its way to Felipe and that it gave him some real joy, just as he gave joy to so many. I thought I had made Happythankyoumoreplease for the whole world. That night, I realized I made it for a musician in Seattle.

Radnor stars in NBC’s drama Rise, premiering March 13.