Written and directed by BenDavid Grabinski (Skiptrace, “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”) in his feature film directorial debut, Happily (2021) is a dark romantic comedy which sees a happily married couple (played by Joel McHale and Kerry Bishé) who discover their friends are resentful of their lustful relationship. When a visit from a mysterious stranger leads to a dead body, they begin to question the loyalty of their so-called friends.
I thought the opening scene of the film was very strong. I thought it was very effective at setting the tone and establishing the central relationship between Tom and Janet. It was also super high energy and very funny. The opening did a great job of establishing the type of humor the film is going for and the central themes and ideas that it will explore. In fact, I think the entire first act of the film was fantastic. It was super funny seeing this extremely forgiving, suburban couple try to navigate and figure out what to do with this dead body. The ways they cover up the evidence, try to get rid of evidence, but also still engage in sexual activities. It was great.
Unfortunately, I think once Tom and Janet get to the house is when things start to get a bit inconsistent. It felt like the film had a really interesting idea about these two people who after 14 years of marriage, have not lost their sexual drive and love for eachother, and their friends resent them for it. It also had a really strong and entertaining and funny first act. Unfortunately, I feel like from there the film didn’t really know where to go. A lot of the second and third act of the film feels very padded with the characters just walking around or partying and there are long stretches of time where it feels like the film is just stretching itself out to 90 minutes.
I think some of the pacing issues in regards to the screenplay have to do with information that is either revealed too early or too late. Tom and Janet both suspect that the man who visited their house, saying that they were not normal, was an elaborate prank pulled by one of their friends, so the second act is spent with Tom and Janet going to this couple’s retreat trying to figure out who sent the man to their house. It’s right at the start of the third act when Tom and Janet confront their friends about the man and you find out if one of their friends pranked them. I feel like if that confrontation was earlier in the film, it could’ve led for more time to develop the reveal and even having the friends oblivious to the purpose of the man help Tom and Janet and also leave more time for Tom and Janet to confront their strange relationship and their relationship with their friends. On the other hand, having the reveal come later in the film I think could’ve made the ending more interesting, and given Tom and Janet more time to try to figure out what is going on and maybe flesh out the other side characters a bit more.
To go back to the ending for a second, the ultimate reveal wasn’t bad, it was just a bit vague. While I totally think it’s okay and sometimes very interesting when films leave things a bit more up to interpretation, in this case it just kinda felt like the film just didn’t really have an answer or know how to end the film. It just felt a bit underwhelming. Though the final few scenes were admittedly very heartwarming and entertaining.
I think what is consistently good about the film is the casting. Both Kerry Bishé (“Scrubs,” Argo, “Halt and Catch Fire”) and Joel McHale (“Community,” Ted, Deliver Us from Evil) were fantastic and hilarious and strangely grounded in their respective roles. They also had amazing chemistry with each other. The rest of the cast was also fantastic, though I think admittedly some of the characters at the couples retreat could have been fleshed out a bit more. Some of the standouts include Natalie Morales (“Parks and Recreation,” “Girls,” Battle of the Sexes) as Patricia, Jon Daly (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Zoolander 2) as Donald, Paul Scheer (“The League,” “Black Monday”) as Val and Charlyne Yi (This Is 40, Knocked Up, “Steven Universe”) as Gretel whose character is one I would’ve liked to have seen more of. I thought the direction overall was pretty good. It had a lot of energy to it. There was also a really nice use of red that I really liked and really stood out with the cinematography, and though the reveal was ultimately underwhelming, I thought the film did a good job with foreshadowing and having these little moments setting up something sinister yet to come.
Verdict: 2.5 out of 5 Stars
A great cast, strong moments of comedy, and a really strong first act unfortunately don’t make up for the rather weak pacing and underwhelming conclusion that follows. Happily (2021) has moments where it feels rather stretched out and sadly does not live up to the full potential of its premise. With a more fleshed out script, I think that BenDavid Grabinski’s directorial and comedic talents can and will really shine through.