‘Happily’ Review — A Delightfully Twisted Blend of Genre and Romance

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Happily Review

I think everyone knows a couple that seems to have figured out a way for their relationship to work harmoniously in way that seems almost alien. Of course, everybody resents them. This little nugget of relatability is the jumping point for Happily, a darkly comic thriller from writer-director BenDavid Grabinski. Happily is a genre movie that eschews genre conventions, establishing its unusual premise early before steadily escalating the unease. Happily is the kind of movie that is just daring you to guess where everything is going – only you will never ever get it right.

Tom (Joel McHale) and Janet (Kerry Bishé) are a couple that have been together for quite some time. 14 years in and they bone like they’re cheating on each other with each other. The first we see of this couple is them slinking away into a bathroom at a party for a sexual rendezvous. Their amorous relationship rubs their friends the wrong way, all of whom have their own personal dissatisfaction with their relationships. Tom and Janet have planned to join their friends for a weekend getaway at posh mansion, but they’ve been disinvited as nobody wants to be trapped in the presence of their aggressive affection for a weekend.

The next morning, a mysterious stranger named Goodman (Stephen Root) arrives at Tom and Janet’s suburban home. He informs them of a major mistake that has caused their romance to flourish for years. In order to rectify their amorous malfunction, Goodman says they must inject themselves with syringes he’s provided with a mysterious green substance at which point they will settle into mundane normality. Like a clinical trial from Hell, Goodman also offers financial compensation. The offer is rejected by Janet, who bludgeons the stranger in her living room. As the loving couple disposes of Goodman’s body, they’re reinvited to the weekend getaway.

With a deadly secret looming, Tom and Janet arrive at the secluded home where they’ll spend the weekend. They’re met by Patricia (Natalie Morales) and Donald (Jon Daly), the couple whom rented the house. Soon they’ll be joined by other couples, including celebrity chef Val (Paul Scheer) and his wife Karen (Natalie Zea), Maude (Kirby Howell-Baptise) and Carla (Shannon Woodward), and finally Richard (Breckin Meyer) and Gretel (Charlyne Yi). The friends drink and party together, but everyone in attendance is harboring a secret of some kind, and those secret will eventually find a way to bubble to surface – threatening friends and lovers alike.

Happily is the debut feature from writer-director BenDavid Grabinski and its an incredibly confident debut. Running just a hair over 90 minutes, there’s not an ounce of fat in Happily. It’s a film that establishes its premise and characters quickly before throwing them all into the madness. What I found most thrilling about Happily was the way Grabinski toys with audience, teasing moments of resolution before pulling the rug out from under your expectations. If you’re the kind of moviegoer that needs every aspect of a film wrapped up neatly with a bow on top, Happily is not for you. But if you’re willing to embrace the twists, turns, and mysteries of Happily, you’ll find a fun genre twist on the romantic comedy that is equally devious and delightful.

For a debut feature, Happily has style to spare. From neon-infused sets to split diopter shots, Grabinski provides his film with an engaging aesthetic that never veers into stylistic flourishes for the sake of stylistic flourishes. As the story becomes more and more unsettling and the characters are removed from anything resembling a comfort zone, the visuals match the story’s growing uneasiness with unusual camera angles and ominous camera movements. Even when the tension is consistently escalating, Happily maintains a wry sense of humor which is amplified by its robust cast with ample comedic talents. This is also a cool movie, and that’s emphasized by the killer soundtrack featuring The Cramps, DEVO, and Nick Cave among others.

While I dug Happily for its twisted sensibilities, this is very much a movie that isn’t made for everyone. It’s a film that never wants to provide the viewer with easy answers, and there are plenty of viewers who reject ambiguity in movies. Happily can be categorized as a twisted romantic comedy or romantic exercise in genre, but however you categorize the film it’s not the kind of work that is looking to meet audience expectations – and I think that plays to the film’s strengths. With a killer cast, killer soundtrack, great visuals, and a script that defies any and all conventions, Happily is a strong debut feature; the rare combination of a high concept met with deft execution from a first-time director.

Overall Score
  • Overall Score
4

Summary

A confident debut from writer-director BenDavid Grabinski, Happily is a twisted mashup of romantic comedies and genre sensibilities in a wild ride that consistently subverts expectations to devious results.

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