Happily, written and directed by BenDavid Grabinski, is a dark comedy that follows Tom (Joel McHale) and Janet (Kerry Bishé) a couple who have been happily married for 14 years. The picture-perfect nature of their relationship sometimes getting on the nerves of their friends. As Tom and Janet are visited by a stranger (Stephen Root) everything they know comes crashing down around them.
Strong Cast with Chemistry
Happily finds strength in its strong cast who play off each other well, allowing the film’s darker comedic moments to shine. Tom and Janet are joined by their couple friends including Patricia (Natalie Morales) and Donald (Jon Daly), Karen (Natalie Zea) and Val (Paul Scheer), Carla (Shannon Woodward) and Maude (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), and Richard (Breckin Meyer) and his recently met fiancé Gretel (Charlyne Yi).
The group of friends slowly reveal more and more about each other and their tumultuous relationships, which works better than in other similar films because the chemistry and comedic talents give life to their characters.
At some points, you wonder why these people are all friends, but the film plays into this and deals with the aftermath of these so-called friends gaining up on the ones they deem abnormal.
In this case that is Tom and Janet with their too happy relationship still filled with spontaneous sex and instant forgiveness leading to more sex even after 14 years together.
Ambiance and Genre
Happily builds a unique atmosphere through its use of horror elements blended with its more comedic moments. Music and cinematography add a horror feel to the film, which works well with the story and makes its moments of comedy more impactful.
Throughout the film, Janet experiences foggy dream sequences which verge more and more into her reality. These sequences give the film a more horror tone and set up the ways in which this film plays with the tropes of other similar films exploring friends coming together and revealing their damaging secrets.
Happily crafts a distinctive universe that challenges your expectation of relationships and dark comedy. The film finds its humor through stand-out moments such as Tom saying he forgives Janet for killing a guy. This comes after they are told they not normal for having a relationship where they forgive each other easily and too often. The film plays around with its characters, always challenging if the science fiction elements of the film are true or not.
Once the film moves from Tom and Janet’s dark experiences, which they are trying to keep hidden at their couples weekend, to the arrival at the rental property and the knowledge that someone did not want them to be invited, tension rises, while the comedy also comes bubbling up through mentions of the house having a room just completely filled with guns and how the differences between each character play out as the audience knows something darker is under the surface.
Changes to a Well-Known Story Structure
By taking this well-known story and turning it on its head through the exploration of horror elements and dark comedy, Happily becomes a unique and entertaining version of a story that feels familiar.
The concept of an independent film where a group of friends who each have their own secrets, sometimes affairs within the group, is common and one I have seen done multiple times, but Happily manages to take this well-worn concept and create something fresh and exciting with it, while also managing to be funnier than those other iterations of similar stories.
Happily works the best when it plays up the darker comedic elements of its characters and their individual stories, and falls flat when it feels too close to reality and the frequently depicted relationship troubles in similar films.
The cast works well opposite each other and their performances evolve as the film crosses between genres, leaning more into its horror tone as the film progresses. Joel McHale and Kerry Bishé stand out with their performances showcasing how their relationship comes across to their friends, while also revealing that maybe some of this perfection is an act of keeping up appearances.
Natalie Morales does a great job of portraying Patricia, a character who at times comes across as the nicest of the bunch while having moments where she might possibly be the one hiding the most behind this friendliness. She gives a memorable performance that highlights the film’s comedy while creating an unease as she expresses how perfect this vacation rental is to each of her friends while hiding the less than savory aspects.
Happily breathes new life into a story we have seen too many times through its unique twists to the classic structure and charming performances showcasing the differences that bring this group of friends together. The combination of moments influenced by horror and romantic comedies gives Happily an interesting and unsettling tone while maintaining a distinctive and playful, yet dark humor throughout.
Happily releases on March 19th in the US.
Do you like dark comedies and are you excited to see Happily? Share your thoughts in the comments.
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