Happily Review: A Devilishly Clever Twilight Zone Riff on the Rom-Com Genre

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Rating: 

9/10

Cast:

Joel McHale as Tom

Kerry Bishé as Janet

Stephen Root as Goodman

Natalie Zea as Karen

Paul Scheer as Val

Natalie Morales as Patricia

Jon Daly as Donald

Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Maude

Charlyne Yi as Gretel

Breckin Meyer as Richard

Shannon Woodward as Carla

Al Madrigal as Arthur

Written and Directed by BenDavid Grabinski

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Happily Review:

Whether in the first few months of your umpteenth relationship or over a decade in with the partner you’ve decided to spend the rest of your life with, the concept of remaining in an endless state of bliss with your partner and having the worst conflict between the two of you be asking your significant other to cook a dish for you, only to make up for it the very next day with a candle-lit evening and breakfast, sounds like heaven. Though such a partnership isn’t entirely out of the realm of reality, there is always a degrading of relationships to some extent over time, but what if you found someone who you connected to in such a way but were presented with the biggest challenge of all: covering up a murder?

It’s an interesting quandary most couples only ever hope to joke about, but BenDavid Grabinski has made it a reality for Joel McHale’s Tom and Kerry Bishé’s Janet in his directorial debut Happily, an odd, Twilight Zone-style breath of fresh air for the romantic comedy genre worthy of multiple visits.

Tom and Janet have been happily married for 14 years and are just as lustful and in love with each other as any couple still in their honeymoon phase or in their early stage of a relationship, a thing all of their couple friends resent that they come to learn from Karen and Val. When a visit from a mysterious stranger claiming their marriage is a mistake in the balance of the universe leads to a dead body, they decide to get out of town with their friends for a weekend getaway, only to begin questioning the loyalty of their so-called friends and the strength of their relationship.

The start of the film introduces the film as a pretty typical comedy, plenty of spiteful banter between their couple friends and calling Tom and Janet out for their sexcapades and deliberate public displays of affection in front of everybody, but it’s the way the tone gradually evolves is something to marvel at. The moment the mysterious stranger, played by the delightfully-off-putting Stephen Root, steps into their lives and the downward spiral the two take afterwards is what really keeps the film intriguing.

It never fully abandons the comedy in favor of its central mystery, but instead infuses the latter with a devilishly clever sense of dark humor to undercut the palpable tension as the couples head off for their weekend getaway together, which in itself adds an extra layer of both humor and brainteasing as Tom and Janet begin to wonder if one of their friends orchestrated the events surrounding the stranger and just who actually didn’t want to invite them to the vacation. While its whodunnit-like plot might not reach the same heights of an Agatha Christie novel or Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, Grabinski’s sleek direction and skillful writing go a long ways to keep audiences on edge while still being allotted opportunities to take a breath with some hilarious character moments.

While Grabinski has worked in the comedy world for years and proves to be a stylish director in his debut, it really is a major credit to the film’s incredible ensemble that the dichotomy of tones proves effective for the film. Just as the genre vets have their timing down for every punchline, gag and bizarre antics, they also illustrate a firm grasp on acting in a world of more serious storytelling, arguably the most impressive of which being Charlyne Yi’s Gretel. Since her debut in Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up, Yi has done a phenomenal job of playing the painfully-awkward type but, without outright spoiling anything, it’s when we learn more about her backstory and explanation behind her actions that we see a new, more serious and tragically-relatable personality from her that she absolutely nails, stealing every scene she’s in and easily standing out as one of the best characters in the film.

Overall, its ambitions of a Rod Serling-styled mystery built around a romantic comedy might sometimes exceed Grabinski’s grasp, he still shows a remarkable sense of balance in his multiple tones and thanks to his stellar ensemble cast delivers a timely, insightful and beautifully shot pic that certainly has me excited to see what comes next from him in the director’s chair.