Unsatisfying, dead-end marriages have been explored and beaten with a switch within contemporary Americana film— married couples reach middle age, resent each other, die miserably, rinse, repeat. But what if the switch flipped to a couple so sickeningly into each other that that was actually the premise/problem? Enter BenDavid Grabinski’s new dark comedy/thriller HAPPILY.
Grabsinki immediately drops us into a very visually appeasing, very red-lit house party in which Tom (Joel McHale) and Janet (Kerry Bishe) lock eyes before gettin’ it on in the bathroom— much to the chagrin of other friends and partygoers. They’ve been married for 14 years, a friend explains to a stranger, and not only are they still hot and heavy for each other, they’re actually…happy. Everyone (especially their “friends”) talks bitterly behind their backs, pondering how weird they are for still being this happy together and just how irritating their loving behavior towards each other truly is: banging in public places (sometimes twice a day), cooking for each other, communicating effectively, etc.
But then one day the couple’s happiness is challenged when a mysterious stranger (Stephen Root) shows up at their door and aggravates them with insistence that they should inject a syringe shot to become “normal”…and, well, it does not go well. We’ll leave it at that. From there, HAPPILY starts to feel like a familiar iteration of The Rental (2020), as Tom and Janet venture to a weird Airbnb getaway with a few other couples, where secrets and true intentions are revealed. And (some) questions are wrapped up. Kinda.
Not only does HAPPILY reiterate how irritating Janet and Tom are to others, but it makes the couple out to be irritating to the viewer as well, as their moderate likability is often faltered by their failure to be relatable whatsoever. You may find yourself having their backs for a while— until their lovey-dovey gushiness starts to grate on your patience too. In fact, nobody in the film (especially the other couples) is particularly likable— in fact, they’re borderline insufferable— with their awkward jokes, lack of chemistry, and dialogue that doesn’t always land. You’ll appreciate Paul Scheer and spot a completely underused Breckin Meyer, among others— but will ultimately feel left wanting more.
However, HAPPILY still manages to keep your curiosity engaged, as it shifts tonally between its darkly comedic, cynical existential dread, sci-fi-ish thriller territory…and even romantic comedy. It stems from an interesting concept— “we don’t have to keep up with appearances”— and explores themes that will always be worth discussion, especially in a digital era in which all we do is look to our peers and neighbors for comparison and ask, “Are we doing this life thing right?” But the film doesn’t dig into these ideas as deeply as one would hope and a lack of satisfaction is inevitable— even the violent deathblow of a domestic abuser fails to hit as hard as it should, as we barely get to spend any time with the particular characters enough to feel connected.
HAPPILY may be too forgettable to ever land on any “Best of 2021 lists,” but if entertaining-enough, is-their-grass-really-greener-on-the-other-side genre-bending films intrigue you, it may be worth the price of admission (and the post-credits scene.)
HAPPILY lands in theaters, digital, and on-demand March 19th.