One person’s joy is another’s suffering – in the black comedy HAPPILY This saying becomes part of the program when the couple embodied by Joel McHale and Kerry Bishé drive those around them crazy with their never-ending happiness. But unfortunately director and author BenDavid Grabinski cannot fully exploit the potential of his story. We reveal more about this in our review.
OT: Happily (USA 2021)
Tom (Joel McHale) and Janet (Kerry Bishé) have been married for over 14 years. And yet the two of them can’t live without each other for a second. They are still as happy as they were on the first day of their relationship. However, not everyone likes this fact. When they realize that their friends are annoyed by their constant public displays of affection, the couple begins to question the loyalty of everyone around them. A visit from a mysterious stranger (Stephen Root), who rambles something about how the two of them are “not normal,” sends them into an existential crisis, which leads to a corpse, lots of questions and a very tense couple’s vacation with many other couples who are actually friends leads…
Anyone who has ever been in a relationship knows that the rose-colored phase of being in love will eventually come to an end. In the best case scenario, affection towards your partner gradually increases over time – love. In the worst case scenario, after the initial euphoria, you realize that you are not a good match at all. Everyday problems and getting used to each other are “thanks”. In romance films, couples rarely have to deal with the banalities of living together; A RomCom usually ends with the couple getting each other. There are certainly numerous films about romantic and interpersonal problems, but these are usually quite serious in nature in order to maintain a drama plot that is not riddled with mere banalities. And let’s be honest: Who wants to watch a couple who have been in a relationship for years being more or less happy when you can make such observations in your own environment (or even on yourself)? Director and screenwriter BenDavid Grabinski (“Are you afraid of the dark?”) However, he found this phase of life and love all the more interesting – and reduced it to absurdity in his feature film debut “Happily”. It’s just a shame that his potentially really dark analysis of the couple turns out to be pretty toothless.
A hot first date at a party? No, Tom (Joel McHale) and Janet (Kerry Bishé) have been married for 14 years.
“Happily” focuses on a couple who have been married for 14 years but show no sign of getting used to it. BenDavid Grabinski cleverly plays with the audience’s expectations in the very first scene and stages a party visit by his main characters as a passionate, erotic introduction followed by sex in the toilet. Even if you know the premise, you can’t help but misinterpret this cliche scene. Because the opening of “Happily” is not a flashback that is supposed to show us how Tom and Janet once met, but simply just that any Party at which the married couple behaves as if they were just dating each other. “Community” star Joel McHale and his film wife Kerry Bishé, who series fans will know from “Penny Dreadful: City of Angels” and “Halt and Catch Fire,” among others, harmonize perfectly as a tireless loving couple – from both that point of view , that the two have been married for years and in the enigmatic position of the newly in love forever, which was staged from the beginning. At the beginning, Grabinski stages several moments of their life together in such a way that you can literally grasp the everyday grind that the two of them face and you inevitably suspect a facade behind the two’s beaming faces. But the filmmaker cleverly resolves it into the opposite again and again until you can finally be sure: Yes, after 14 years of marriage, these two are really still as happy as they were on the first day.
“At the beginning, Grabinski stages several moments of living together in such a way that you can literally grasp the everyday grind that the two of them are exposed to and you inevitably suspect a facade behind the two of them’s beaming faces.”
Nevertheless, BenDavid Gabinski makes it clear from the start with his staging style: the idyll in “Happily” is deceptive. And so the film, which is difficult to assign to a single genre (the classification of “Comedy” made by iTunes and the Internet Movie Database does not go far enough!) is not about celebrating the harmony between Tom and Janet, but from the very beginning to find an explanation for their never-ending contentment. This makes “Happily” seem a little cynical from the start; A pair of lovers who still desire each other even after 14 years – that can just not be normal. This also fits the drawing of the circle of friends, who cannot simply enjoy the happiness of the two, but gradually become annoyed by the fact that Tom and Janet seem to be so much happier than each of them. Cynical is one thing, attractive is another. Composer Joseph Trapanese creates a minimalist, threateningly wavering score (“Robin Hood”) an atmosphere of omnipresent tension. Cameraman Adam Bricker playing with blur and different color filters (“Starry Eyes”) emphasizes the diffuse feeling of threat with his image compositions. The audiovisual presentation of “Happily” even creates a spiritual kinship with Lorcan Finnegan’s bitterly evil, brilliant family idyll deconstruction “Vivarium”. There are even certain threatening similarities between the lulling house salesman Martin and the mysterious stranger, who doesn’t want to sell Tom and Janet a new place to stay, but instead wants to spoil their harmony. What also unites their performances is that in both “Vivarum” and “Happily” things only really get going after the supporting characters have already said goodbye to the film. With the small difference that in “Vivarium” an extremely entertaining (yet damn nasty) allegory about the meaninglessness of human existence emerges, while the makers of “Happily” simply don’t seem to know what they are doing with their promising starting point should actually begin.
What’s with the mysterious stranger (Stephen Root)?
Although the question of whether Tom and Janet’s long-term infatuation is normal or whether it results from a “defect” (which would place “Happily” in sci-fi realms) is clearly formulated in the first half of the film, the answer to it plays out later However, it hardly plays a role anymore. It doesn’t have to, because BenDavid Grabinski is clearly interested in something completely different. From then on he devotes himself to the juxtaposition of Tom and Janet and their numerous couple friends, with whom they spend a short vacation in a luxurious property in the second half of the film. The exposure of maintained facades and feigned happiness as well as the analysis of what a married couple actually is really makes you happy, is evident in every second of “Happily”. Nevertheless, Grabinski does not bring any of these approaches to an end. The couples in “Happily”, all of whom are burdened with different (marriage) problems, remain far too superficial in their drawing to actually stir up interest in their situation. Over time, even the dynamic between Tom and Janet begins to suffer from the experimental nature of the film. It’s as if the script were putting all the elements of its cinematic relationship study into place, only to not even begin the actual game. In particular, the finale, which contains numerous narrative gaps, turns out to be completely unsatisfactory. It’s not just the subtext that falls by the wayside, but the entire plot.
“The exposure of maintained facades and feigned happiness as well as the analysis of what actually makes a married couple really happy is evident in every second of “Happily”. Nevertheless, Grabinski does not bring all of these approaches to an end.”
While Joel McHale and Kerry Bishé at least largely manage to conceal the script’s weaknesses with their harmonious chemistry, their colleagues have the thankless task of embodying characters whose development corresponds to mere caricatures (the femme fatale, the tough, the Loser…), but not presented as such. “Happily” never becomes absurd enough to work with exaggerated character performances, but instead suffers from the fact that the makers let them act in a vacuum. And so the impression arises that Grabinski not only doesn’t know anything about his story, but even less about the characters – although the first 20 minutes of “Happily” would be a perfect, nasty, funny short film that has much more to add to the intended couple analysis than the 70 minutes that follow.
Conclusion: An excellent idea implemented in a sobering way: feature film debutant BenDavid Grabinski unfortunately fails to exploit the potential of his bitter analysis of marriage over the full running time and in the end leaves numerous question marks unanswered and plot lines that have been bitten off. Nevertheless, it will be exciting to continue following Grabinski’s career. The audiovisual design in particular reveals potential that could distinguish the newcomer as a genre filmmaker.
“Happily” is now available on US streaming portals.