Happily is heady, genuinely hilarious, and a work of impressive tonal balance from director BenDavid Grabinski.
The law of diminishing returns dictates that, over time, optimal output will ultimately level off as new variants are introduced into the equation. The same goes for relationships; the feeling of euphoria present at the start will eventually taper off as the everyday minutiae and familiarity of life take their toll. Sustained happiness is suspect, an idea explored in Happily, writer-director BenDavid Grabinski’s impressively assured debut. Tom (Joel McHale) and Janet (Kerry Bishé) have been blissfully married for 14 years, remaining as happy as they were on the day they met. They have sex, on average, 2.5 times a day, and that’s not even including oral. They instantly and truly forgive one another’s minor transgressions. Their marriage is, in a word, perfect. It’s also the reason why they are so hated by their friends, who see their love as a sort of betrayal of nature. In a nod to the likes of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, the couple are soon confronted by a stranger who informs them that their happiness is indeed a genetic malfunction in need of scientific correction. What results puts a whole new strain on their upcoming weekend getaway with friends, all of whom have plenty of dirty laundry in need of airing.
Grabinski possesses a keen understanding of the toll that, ironically, happiness can take on both a relationship and those troubled souls exposed to it. We want to believe that each person is as miserable as the next as we deal with the struggles that accompany any long-term romance. Happiness is fleeting, a façade held in place by the most delicate of threads. If all of this sounds rather weighty, what proves most impressive is the light touch with which Granbinski and his talented cast execute the conceit, also eliciting a surprising amount of empathy for its flawed characters. And above all else, the film is legitimately, wickedly funny, inspiring more laugh-out-loud moments than any comedy in ages. Grabinski has fun with his widescreen compositions, delivering a number of clever sight gags that take full advantage of the sprawling visual space. In a rather humorous nod, he also apes the aesthetic of David Fincher’s Gone Girl, cool blue filters contrasted with scenes of glowing golds and ambers — and he even has some fun with the kind of ridiculously oversized shower that proved pivotal in Fincher’s portrait of an unhinged marriage. McHale delivers what is undoubtedly the most genuine performance of his career, and he and Bishé evince a believable and palpable (sexual) chemistry. They’re buttressed by a stellar supporting cast — including Natalie Morales, Paul Scheer, and Charlyne Yi, to name a few — all of whom seem both entirely relatable and wholly awful, an apt enough reflection of our own petty natures. The whole thing is an exercise in uncanny instincts, but when a film manages to effectively use the theme song to Walter Hill’s 1984 cult classic Street of Fire during its climax, or pull off lines like, “He has worse taste in music than the jet from the movie Stealth,” you know it’s truly special. With Happily, Grabinski proves that, even in his debut, he is already a master of tone and a serious filmmaker to follow.
Published as part of Before We Vanish | March 2021.