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Photo: ‘Happily’/Saban FIlms

Happily’, the directorial debut from BenDavid Grabinski, is a strong movie from a first-time feature director. Although it falls short of becoming a classic, the movie is still extremely funny and contains highlight performances from Joel McHale and Kerry Bishé. The movie keeps the audience on the edge of their seats the entire time and contains many twists and turns.

The movie revolves around blissfully in love couple Tom (McHale) and Janet (Bishé) and their inability to keep their hands off of each other. Well, at first it does. At the beginning of the movie, Tom and Janet act like young newlyweds, not a couple who have been together for well over a decade. They tear each other’s clothes off at any chance they can get, much to the displeasure of their friends, and rarely get into arguments. As well as that, they’re both conventionally attractive and live in a beautiful house which only adds to the ire of their friends. In fact, this leads to them being uninvited from a couples retreat, only to be re-invited before the trip happens, but one thing at a time.

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‘Happily’ Ever After – Or Not

Tom and Janet’s love infuriates many of their friends, including the couple of Val (Paul Scheer) and wife Karen (Natalie Zea). Another fun fact, Karen plays the ex-girlfriend of Tom which only adds more drama to this group of friends. Partly because of Karen’s bitterness and partly because of their excessive heart-eyes, Tom and Janet are uninvited from the couples’ getaway. They both seem fairly understanding and resolve to have a weekend relaxing by themselves.

That is, until a mysterious salesman (Stephen Root) appears at their doorsteps and acts as some sort of psychic. He says that they’re some type of unknown love anomaly and must revert back to normal, like everyone else, and brandishes huge syringes full of green liquid. His words are more of a demand than anything else and while Tom excuses himself, Janet attacks the mystery man. It does not end well for the stranger.

Even after his wife seemingly murders someone, Tom is hopelessly in love with his wife. Janet may be in blood-splattered clothing, but Tom doesn’t react as horribly as we would expect and almost immediately forgives his wife. In the aftermath, they have to decide what to do with the body when, coincidentally, the phone rings, and they’re re-invited to the couples’ trip. Perfect timing, right?

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A Movie Where The Ensemble Cast Shines

When Tom and Janet arrive at the modern mansion where they’ll be staying, they’re one of the first couples to arrive. They’re given a grand tour while they wait for the others and the mansion contains a few oddities, including a room full of guns and a portrait of the stranger from earlier. Before the movie can delve any deeper into these creepy additions, the rest of the couples arrive and the electric driveway gates close. Among the group are Maude (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) and Carla (Shannon Woodward), Gretel (Charlyne Yi) and her fiance Richard (Breckin Meyer), and the planners of the trip Donald (Jon Daly) and Patricia (Natalie Morales).

Many of these all-star cast members are known as comedians or have starred in comedy shows and they certainly don’t disappoint. Unfortunately, the dialogue that is given to them is fairly lackluster but the seasoned actors make the most of it. With such a big cast, Scheer and Zea end up taking control of most of the plot alongside McHale and Bishé, but the overall result is still good. 

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At this point in the movie, the comedy takes a backseat to the drama that unfolds. Most of the comedy comes from one-liners and jokes at McHale’s expense, but the exchanges are funny nonetheless. Anyways, after the murder of the salesman, both Tom and Janet start to experience weird behaviors and dreams. Tom seems physically repulsed by his wife and they don’t have sex as much, something that immediately confuses Janet. Meanwhile, Karen begins to try to seduce Tom with surprising results. As the movie progresses, more twists and turns are revealed, especially when the salesman turns out to be alive and Janet encounters him again (surprise!).

‘Happily’ – Dark Comedy, Thriller, and Drama All In One

At least at the beginning, ‘Happily’ operates with a self-awareness that many comedies have, which is why it’s so enjoyable. A slow-motion scene introduces us to Tom and Janet with a cheesy ‘80s song in the background. It’s equally informative and entertaining and sets the tone for the entire movie. From there, the film dissolves into more of a drama that often alludes to darker tones seen in a thriller. The setting of the mansion serves as the biggest vehicle to convey thriller tropes, especially with sly-angles and hidden surprises waiting for the characters.

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At one point, the characters come to the conclusion that they’re being watched by someone else. Some characters are easier to convince than others, but eventually, everyone is in agreement and decides to leave. All at once, the group leaves the expensive tech-paradise and try to escape through the main gates with no success. The electronic gate is firmly shut and when one of the husbands tries to vault over, he’s electrocuted and collapses to the ground. Fortunately, he’s alright but that in turn freaks everyone out, and this fear fuels the final part of the movie. When the end of the movie comes, it’s abrupt and many are unhappy with it.

However, the biggest problem with ‘Happily’ is how many directions it tries to take. At first, the twists and turns are interesting but soon they begin to be too much in the hands of an inexperienced director. When the film ends, on a fairly ambiguous note, I’m left wanting more than I’ve been given and not in a good way. Many storylines were left unfinished and it felt like the ending was sudden. If the movie was given ten to twenty more minutes, the ending would’ve been more satisfying and more drawn out. While ‘Happily’ was a masterpiece of a movie, McHale and Bishé command the screen and with help of their supporting cast, make the movie a must-watch. It bites off more than it can chew, but is still overall entertaining and enjoyable. 

‘Happily’ is available in theaters as well as available to purchase on VUDU and other VOD services.

Writer/director: BenDavid Grabinski 

Cast: Joel McHale, Kerry Bishé, Natalie Zea, Paul Scheer

Cinematography: Adam BrickerComposed by: Joseph Trapanese 

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