It doesn’t matter who you are, nearly everyone knows that one person that gets on their nerves for being too good at what they do. Thinking a seemingly perfect person is annoying doesn’t necessarily make you uncaring or mean. It just means that some people are incredibly grating for reasons that are hard to explain, and even harder to justify to their face.
For most of their friend group, Tom (Joel McHale) and Janet (Kerry Bishé) definitely are these people. It’s not hard to understand — not only are they both nice and attractive, they also are extremely vocal about being disgustingly in love with each other. They never fight, their sex life is amazing and even after fourteen long years together, they still can’t get enough of each other’s company. Their life seems like a dream, which makes them a nightmare to be around for everyone else; especially other couples their age, who may see everything they hate about themselves reflected in their perfect faces.
Although McHale and Bishé have great chemistry and are a pleasure to watch, even the most sentimental among us would eventually get sick of their overt sweetness for an entire hour and a half. It is pretty clear that the happiness we are witnessing will soon be tested, most likely along the course of a weekend getaway they keep getting invited (and uninvited) to. Yet, while we may expect that something will go wrong for the perfect couple, few could predict the extremely unusual circumstances that will define the rest of the story.
Happily is most definitely the type of film that benefits immensely from knowing as little as possible about it, and both synopsis and trailers do a fantastic job at leaving the viewer in the dark. At first glance, it seems like yet another take on the uncomfortable get-together that quickly turns horrific. However, it would be insulting to pretend that what BenDavid Grabinski wrote is anything remotely close to a comedic The Rental or The Invitation. You could describe it as an absurdist comedy, a thriller with social commentary or an aesthetically pleasing study of committed adult relationships, and you would be right every single time.
Indeed, Tom and Janet would soon grow dull if they were the only ones involved in this story. They are in a world that isn’t so far from our reality, and our reality judges those that dare to be happy quite harshly. It can be hard to know who to root for: should we cheer for the two super charismatic leads, or prefer the less likeable, but more realistic, couples that surround them? Should we want the story to get as weird as possible and clearly depart from our world, or hope for a clean resolution that may be more painful to accept? The way one will interpret the bizarreness unfolding in front of them will most likely tell them more about themselves than about any of the characters. Leaving this amount of freedom to a viewer is no easy choice, but it is ultimately gratifying to be considered worthy of respect by something so consistently clever.
Beyond the absurdism of the plot lies some genuine greatness. The film’s supporting cast is full of familiar extremely talented faces, from Natalie Morales to Charlyne Yi and Paul Scheer. They fit right into the strange world that Grabinski is building, each character getting their fair share of identifiable qualities to tell them apart in the short runtime. This is not a film that bothers itself with anything superfluous — every line of dialogue, as ridiculous as it may sound, has a reason to be there, and every character, even the most minor one, serves a purpose.
There also is something to be said about seeing adult couples, most at least in their mid-thirties, simply getting to exist on screen as they are. There’s no talk of children, parents or of anyone outside of the friend group. These are, for the most part, adults, not overgrown teenagers who carried their high school wounds all the way to pseudo maturity. Adulthood and marriages can be messy and full of insecure people, but it looks very different than how most romantic comedies like to picture them. These people are not defined by those who came before them or those who will follow; they are their present. A very flawed present maybe, but the present all the same.
The saddest part of Happily may be that despite hitting all the right notes, the combination of less than ideal release conditions, an only moderately famous cast and a concept that won’t appeal to the masses, means that it will most likely remain a hidden gem. While we can still believe in a miracle, it is a shame that the film already seems doomed to being underrated before being rated at all. Nevertheless, if this looks like your type of thing, there’s a good chance it will be. Dark comedies can be hard to master, but this one definitely knows what it’s doing.
Happily is available in select cinemas and on VOD from March 19th
by Callie Hardy
Callie (she/her) is a Belgian New Media student currently living in Dublin. She enjoys female-fronted horror, nostalgic adaptations of childhood classics and every outfit Blake Lively wears in A Simple Favor. She’s usually pretty honest, but if you catch her saying that her favourite film is anything other than Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events, you should know that she’s lying. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Letterboxd.