Review by Sean Boelman
It’s hard to nail down exactly what BenDavid Grabinski’s feature debut Happily is, but it’s definitely… something. A crazy, genre-bending romance (or maybe not), Grabinski’s film isn’t always as sharp as one would hope, but thanks to great direction and performances, it overcomes the sometimes inconsistent nature of the script.
The movie tells the story of a couple who has been happily married for years, causing resentment to form among their friend group, when a strange series of events on a couples’ trip forces them to confront themselves and their relationship. As a deconstruction of romantic comedy tropes, Grabinski’s script works quite well, but it’s not quite as effective when it tries to be something a bit more involved.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the film is that Grabinski uses mystery as a crutch. There is enough tension in the dynamic between the characters that the intrigue of keeping the audience in the dark isn’t necessary. Instead, the audience has to wonder whether they are watching a high-concept sci-fi or a low-concept erotic thriller, and the payoff is a tad anticlimactic.
Additionally, the movie throws around a lot of themes but doesn’t say much of anything about them. Grabinski is obviously using the film to explore modern relationships and the different flaws that can tear them apart, but short discussions of infidelity, sexual identity, and especially domestic abuse don’t go into enough depth.
That said, what Grabinski has done extremely well is create a cast of characters that is fascinating to watch and surprisingly busts archetypes. The movie is at its best in the second and third act when it puts all of these couples together and at each other’s throats, resulting in interactions that are hilarious and anxiety-inducing.
The ensemble cast for the film is also excellent. Joel McHale (taking the lead for once) and Kerry Bishé are awesome as the lead couple, having excellent chemistry together and both nailing the comedic and sinister elements. Highlights among the other couples include Natalie Morales, Paul Scheer, Breckin Meyer, and Charlene Yi. Stephen Root also has an intriguing supporting role.
Grabinski also has a very stylistic approach that is infectiously energetic. The first half of the movie really pops with color and has a soundtrack that is genuinely inspired with unique and fitting song choices. Then when it turns into something more intimate for the final act, it will keep viewers on the edge of their seats with its very well-paced editing.
Happily is a really interesting film, even if it is hard to classify why. It’s one of the rare examples where there’s a lot going on to the point of inconsistency, but it still manages to work because of the clarity of the director’s vision.
Happily hits theaters and VOD on March 19.