- Nate Adams
Review: Twisted 'Happily' takes viewer on cerebral ride
Courtesy of Vertical
Tom and Janet aren’t your average, happy-go-lucky married couple. For 14 years, they haven't lost their romantic intimacy and continue slipping away at dinner parties for a bathroom quickie like high schoolers stuck in the honeymoon phase. But there’s something sinister and obscure lurking underneath their neverending libido, and the answers unspooled in BenDavid Grabinski’s wonderfully bizarre and high concept romantic comedy “Happily” aren’t easy to digest. Like a cross between “The Box” and “The Twilight Zone,” “Happily” takes the viewer on a trippy experience where marital struggles are openly divulged and characters reckon with a powerful truth. The result is a rewarding exercise in virtue and ignorance.
Joel McHale and Kerry Bishe breathe life into Tom and Janet, two semi-normal folks who can’t stop touching each other. It makes their Los Angeles social clique furious because they can’t have dinner without the other initiating a sexual favor. Grabinski’s delightful social commentary in those early scenes provokes a solid reaction and when a well-dressed ringleader played by Stephen Root arrives at Tom and Janet’s front door, offering a serum that can turn them into a “normal” married couple, the fun is only getting started.
To further cement the film's spontaneous attitude, Janet kills the bastard, putting the couple in a bind ahead of an annual weekend getaway with their toxic friend group. Instead of cancelling, the lovebirds trash the body and head to their AirBnB getaway wondering what the hell just happened and maybe find some answers.
There’s plenty of exposition in those first 45-minutes and “Happily” - keeping with its chaotic themes - doesn’t take the easy way out, but the film works best when Tom and Janet are forced to leave their tiny slice of heaven and face reality. In fact, the entirety of the film's curious second half plays out as such. All the couples who partake in the annual trip are contending with their own woes, and what brought these crazy batch of characters to this exact moment remains a delicate, ambiguous mystery though hints peppered throughout (how about a gun room) signal where things could head.
With an ace cast including Shannon Woodward, Paul Scheer, Breckin Meyer, Natalie Morales and Natalie Zea, Grabinski is in good company. But a tight schedule and the necessity of keeping the main plot moving can’t afford them much screen-time. Zea gets the meatiest supporting role playing a jealous housewife hellbent on seducing Tom to prove his marriage is as meaningless as hers, but Scheer and Woodward score some notable zingers too.
In the end, despite several narrative subplots never reaching their apex, watching McHale and Bush navigate the wild terrain laid for them salvages those minor setbacks. It doesn’t always paint a gorgeous, coherent picture, but Grabinski’s unique style promises a bright directorial career lies ahead.
HAPPILY debuts In Theaters, On Digital & On Demand Friday, March 19th