Happily is a dark romance/thriller that feels like an Agatha Christie style whodunnit written by a Millennial who has never read Christie and perhaps never watched dark comedies.
For all its faults – and there are plenty – the movie is fun in spirit with positive and attractive leads. It proves that love can conquer all… even unintentional murder.
The premise is a fun one. Tom and Janet are madly and desperately in love, and have been for over 14 years. Their friends? Not so much. They are grumpy and abusive and lazy, but all those friends rent a mansion for a weekend getaway.
Prior to that weekend, Tom and Janet (convincingly played by Joel McHale’s pecs and Kerry Bishé’s mole) are visited by a strange agent (Stephen Root) who implores that they are “damaged” and that by submitting to a certain injection they will become “normal.” In a not-so-normal fit, Janet kills the agent claiming self-defense. After they escape to the party, they realize that the agent might have been a practical joke, meaning Janet killed an innocent man.
The weekend is full of lies, infidelity, and drunken behavior as Tom and Janet try to determine who set them up and who the agent is… until he returns for them all again.
McHale and Bishé play a fantastic couple with dynamic chemistry, but one does wonder why they have terribly shallow friends. The supporting cast breaks out of the usual cliches, but that turn does not make them interesting. Or likeable. The aptly-named Karen (Natalie Zea) is an instigator who causes conflict as sure as the sun rises. Bricken Meyer has nearly zero dialogue, while his weirdo fiancé (Charlyne Yi) is underused. Only Patricia (Natalie Morales), who gets the group together under pretenses of her own, has any depth other than Tom and Janet. Patricia and Karen’s own spouses would make Jell-O seem as resolute as Jon Hamm’s chin.
Happily is that awkward kid at a campus kegger who tries to be everything to everyone. In doing so, it has no personality on its own. Directed by BenDavid Grabinski, Happily zips along as a fun romance/sex-comedy that turns into a whodunnit, while ending as a possible horror franchise entry. And for the record? I’d watch a horror franchise starring Stephen Root any day of the week. But Happily unnecessarily bursts too many genre bubbles resulting in a deflated ending.
Happily unnecessarily bursts too many genre bubbles resulting in a deflated ending.
Grabinski’s style makes the film look modern and inviting. Although, he and editor Spencer Houck do use that Avid slow-dissolve montage style about three times too many. The comfortable world of Tom and Janet is soft. The unexpected mansion retreat is dark and sharp. Happily successfully shows the world outside your window, but maybe one that is down the street a ways.
What makes Happily truly swing are its needle drops. From Extreme to Devo, Tim Cappello to Sylvester, to ever-lovin’ Public Image, Ltd., the dance, rock, and new wave hits jam.
For a sex-comedy turned horror, Happily has surpringly little sex or horror. Outside of the main leads, the movie feels like a party that once full of hype and promise, instead becomes a tired assemblage of the needy striving to be hip. With no true genre to call its own, Happily suffers a satisfying closure. If this was made as a jumping point, there is no Marvel-esque zinger to broker excitement. If a pure crime drama, there is no justice. If solely a dark comedy, maybe the last laugh is that Tom and Janet can live … happily.