Release Date: March 19, 2021
Studio: Indy Entertainment, Electric Dynamite, Common Wealth Media
Director: BenDavid Grabinski
Release Format: Theatrical/Digital On-Demand
In theory, Happily is an admirable effort. It tries something new by attempting to marry the comedy and thriller genres into something feasible. The problem is, unlike its lead characters, it’s a marriage that is rocky from the start and neither genre is executed particularly well.
It’s a shame because its lead stars Joel McHale (Community) and Kerry Bishé (Halt and Catch Fire) have proven talented in past roles – but this isn’t apparent here. The pair play lovey-dovey couple Tom and Janet, who remain smitten even after fourteen years of marriage. So miraculously in love are this pair, they enjoy sex multiple times a day. Apart from this though, they have nothing in common apart from being Hollywood attractive.
But alas, one fateful day, the couple are approached by a mysterious black-suit-clad man, Goodman (Stephen Root) who claims their perfect marriage is a “defect”. He offers an unasked-for solution to their idyllic relationship – a serum that makes them “normal” like everyone else. This doesn’t go down too well with Janet, who rejects the serum and murders the stranger in cold blood. Cue a dark-comedic scene where she and Tom Google how to bury a body and then do just that.
Soon after, the couple is invited to a couples’ getaway house party by their friend Patricia (Natalie Morales) whom they suspect to be linked to the mysterious Goodman. Tom and Janet attend, but there appears to be more to Patricia’s new house than meets the eye, including the other couples she has invited…
Laughter is the best medicine (and it isn’t here)
Here’s the thing with Happily: it’s a bore of a film. The ‘hook’ of the narrative (what’s going on with the house?/What are Patricia and Donald’s connection with Goodman?) is not in the least bit intriguing. The plot is so surreal yet bearing such low stakes, you struggle to care. Why? Multiple reasons. Tom and Janet are such an unlikely and unbelievable couple whose only commonality is sex. You don’t care whether they stay together and not. Yet, their bond is evidently invulnerable.
This makes what are meant to be tension-filled scenes a chore to sit through. Joel McHale can walk moodily through as many dimly-lit rooms as he likes, but when it’s clear there’s no major consequences, you’re begging for these scenes to finish. Now, one might respond by saying the scenes are intended to parody the thriller genre. But even if that’s true, it fails as they provide no laughs whatsoever.
Since the Director and writers are unable to cook up the tension, it’s mainly down to composer Joseph Trapanese. And to his credit, his score helps, featuring a range of beautifully melancholic ambient soundscapes not unlike Brian Eno’s work. It’s just a shame Trapanese’s talents are wasted on Happily, as what we hear is far more interesting than what we see on-screen. Brilliant as he is, he can do better than having to score Joe McHale wandering around a house or montages of two-dimensional characters staring silently at each-other.
Happily dabbling in comedy clichés
Speaking of McHale, the Community actor is the weakest link here, playing Jeff Winger-lite while offering none of the same laughs. When he isn’t doing yawn-inducing comedy, he is acting dramatic scenes as effectively as a brick wall. At least his castmates pick up the slack despite the lameness of their material. Kudos goes to Natalie Morales as Patricia, who portrays the mouthy party host with zest and flair. Less so to Natalie Zea, who plays Tom’s ex who is eager to do the deed with him, ending up a groan-inducing comedy movie cliché.
Oh and speaking of comedy clichés, there’s a scene where Patricia’s husband, Donald (Jon Daly), excitedly signals to his co-partiers when the lesbian couple (played by Kirby Howel-Baptiste and Shannon Woodward) kiss in the pool. There’s no narratively-justifiable reason for this scene to exist except for some cheap laughs. However, it just shows how uninteresting Daly’s character is.
Waiting for the End to Come
The biggest problem Happily faces is also its most unique feature – its blend of comedy and thriller. Because it attempts to juggle both genres simultaneously, the tone feels frustratingly inconsistent. It tries to make you laugh and intrigued simultaneously but cancels out both emotions as a result. While props can be given for this creative attempt, when the movie fails to provide neither laugh nor thrill, it makes it a monotonous watch.
But hey, given the time the film spends building up its mystery, there’s surely a satisfying payoff, right? Wrong. All we get are predictable revelations, accompanied by eye-rolling sexuality and adultery jokes. Already unlikable characters become unbearable. Is there a larger theme to grasp behind this? At this point, you struggle to care. But there is one good thing – the movie is almost over. Most of the characters don’t change by the end and neither do you. Time for bed.
Verdict: Kudos for Director/Writer BenDavid Grabinski for creatively attempting at merging comedy and thriller in his debut film. However, the results are inconsistently tedious, with a shoddy film that neither amuses nor thrills. This is one forgettable flick you can ‘Happily’ avoid.
- Creative attempt at merging comedy and thriller
- Fantastic soundtrack
- The film eventually ends
- Joel McHale bringing a D-Grade Performance
- The merging of genres creates a conflicting tone
- Slow pace makes it a slog to get through