Released: 2nd June
Seen: 4th July
One of the saddest things a film can do is to not seem to know what it should be, relegating the element of the movie that’s actually worth exploring to a single scene when it realistically should just be what the entire movie is. I’m sure we’ve all seen movies where it meanders for an hour and then gets to a single interesting scene that makes you go “Where has this been for the last hour? Why isn’t this the entire movie?”… and if you haven’t, watching Happily will give you that exact feeling.
Happily follows the happiest married couple you’ve ever met. Janet (Kerry Bishé) and Tom (Joel McHale) are that couple who can’t seem to keep their hands off each other, so disturbingly happy that it actually makes people hate them. They’re the kind of couple who text each other when they’re side by side or run to the bathroom for a quick hookup, annoyingly in love.
One day a mysterious man known simply as Goodman (Stephen Root) turns up to their house to tell them that there is something wrong with them and he isn’t leaving until they let him inject them with something that’ll make them less lovey dovey… so naturally Janet clubs him to death. Now with a dead body on their hands they need to lie low for a while and so they end up going with a bunch of friends to a rented house for a little getaway and during that getaway a whole bunch of secrets will come out, which’d be interesting if any of the characters were interesting enough to give a crap about.
The idea behind Happily itself has some merit, “We accidentally killed someone and need to deal with it” has been the basis of many a dark comedy but the problem here is that the actual murder ends up not really meaning that much. It’s less a plotline and more the inciting incident to get them to go to a house with their friends. They don’t leave the country or change their identities, they just go to an Air B-n-b for a few days and maybe I’m being fussy here but that doesn’t seem like the kind of plot that requires a murder. When you have a film where the cold blooded murder of a seemingly major character could be written out and nothing of value is lost, you have a problem.
It’s not helping that the characters in Happily aren’t really that interesting. Our lead couple are certainly sweet enough that you kind of feel bad for them somehow making people mad with their love but other than that the only other character of any note is a bitchy blonde named Karen (Natalie Zea) who is basically there to tempt Tom into having an affair. Everyone else is used so little that I genuinely forgot they were in the film, and considering that this film has people like Breckin Meyer (who I know from the iconic film Rat Race so believe me, I notice when he’s in things) and Paul Sheer (from Black Monday, seriously great show) I shouldn’t forget that they’re there… and yet, there’s a cast of 10 people in this house, even with IMDB open I’ll be damned if I could name their characters for you.
For the majority of Happily you’re just watching these well off suburbanites in a fancy mansion that they rented, occasionally walking into a screening room playing Plan 9 from Outer Space (a film that, I’ll be honest, I’d probably prefer to watch) and that’s pretty much it. Nothing of real consequence happens until the final act of Happily when they all try to leave and the fence is electrified so they can’t get out. At this point they’re basically forced to talk and reveal their secrets… and at that point I had to ask “Why isn’t THIS the movie?”
Happily builds to this big 20 minute long (if that) discussion between the main cast, at least two-thirds of whom I genuinely forgot were even part of this film, and it’s the first time there’s real proper conflict and intrigue. We get a chance to actually learn something about the characters, we get fights and arguments and dramatic moments. If this were teased out substantially and the opening was maybe cut to a montage and a few scenes we could have an interesting film here, instead what we have is an hour long buildup to maybe 15 minutes of intrigue, followed by a rushed ending that basically has no value.
There are some interesting ideas here in Happily, from the idea that a very loving couple might actually be the ones with the biggest problems of them all to a lengthy discussion about secrets that friends keep in order to protect each other. You could theoretically see either of these concepts make for a compelling little black comedy… and it’ll have to be theoretical because this one just isn’t doing it. It’s not even that this film is bad, it’s watchable if you’re a fan of Joel McHale but its biggest problems are that you can see very clearly where it screws up and where it could improve and it’s kind of sad that no one making it could see that.