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'Happily' Review: We're all messed up, and that's (mostly) ok

Tom and Janet are not having a good time.

Tom (Joe McHale) and Janet (Kerry Bishé) in 'Happily.'
(Image: © Saban Films)

Our Verdict

'Happily' sets out to remind us that no one's perfect and that sometimes the bad guy's motives don't matter.

For

  • 💉Well-shot, with some fun stylistic scenes stills to boot.
  • 💉The dialogue will keep you cackling.
  • 💉A thoughtful exploration of humanity's flaws.
  • 💉Extremely clever casting all around.

Against

  • 💉The antagonists' vague origins might vex some folks.
  • 💉If you're a viewer who needs a firm logical throughline, you might be annoyed with the ending.
  • 💉The film's lesbian couple is so underused that their inclusion feels almost like tokenism.

Happily is the kind of movie that makes you wish that the consumer ecosystem looked differently than it does. In a perfect world, people would watch a piece of media and then go seek out their favorite critics’ analysis on the film. Instead, we work in a set of embargoes and criticism is often used as I “should I or shouldn’t I” kind of driver for the viewer. But Happily is one of those flicks that it’s best to watch cold, without any information on the property or what it’s trying to do. For that reason, we’re going to keep things as vague as humanly possible. 

Tom (Joel McHale) and Janet (Kerry Bishé) are the perfect couple. They rarely fight, they adore each other, and they are constantly going to town no matter what the setting. And their friends hate them for it. That hatred runs so deep that Tom and Janet eventually find themselves voted out of the couple’s retreat at the fancy Airbnb that their pals have set up for the weekend. But, strangely, finding out that their entire friend group can’t stand them won’t be the worst thing to happen to the couple that week.

 

The casting here is impeccable. Natalie Morales finds herself as the film's low-key MVP as Patricia, with Charlyne Yi coming in at a close second with her trademark weirdness as Gretel. If there’s one complaint in this area, it’s that the film’s lesbian couple — Maude (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) and Carla (Shannon Woodward) — feel underdeveloped in comparison to the others. Everyone has their role to play, but their inclusion is so limited that it feels almost like tokenism. With that said, everyone who’s given something to do absolutely does it. The comedic timing of some of the players definitely adds to Happily’s appeal. 

Stylistically speaking, the film is really quite stunning. The set design of both the mansion has this kind of ominous, crisp, minimalism to it. You’re in awe of it, but you also know some shit’s about to go down under that roof. Meanwhile, Tom and Janet’s home is a nice mix of clean and cozy. Add all of that to the sharp, stylized scenes sprinkled throughout the movie and you’ve got something genuinely fun to look at. Janet’s dream sequences in particular manage to be an odd kind of trendy foreshadowing to the doom ahead. Happily’s recurring shot of the ten red chairs is a nice modern illustration that sometimes less really is more.

While this is the kind of film that’s best to go into blind, it’s worth mentioning that Happily will not give you all of the answers. If you’re the type of viewer who needs that from your entertainment, you’re likely going to be left wanting. It knows what it’s trying to say, it just prefers the implicit to holding the audience’s hand. The themes that run throughout basically boil down to the fact that we’re all kind of broken. There’s no such thing as the perfect couple — or the perfect person. The good ones do their best. The worst ones don’t care what they destroy. It’s the intent of it all that matters most to the story’s narrative. When someone’s intent is malicious, the story reacts appropriately. Whether or not you agree with how it handles that malice is going to vary on a viewer-by-viewer basis.

So far as I’m concerned, certain characters were dealt with exactly as they should have been.

Happily toys with existentialism in just the right ways. Its comedy grounds its story while the script teases us with answers that it confirms don’t actually matter. Like the people it depicts, it’s not perfect. Instead, it’s a very attractive and sometimes messy look at how we perceive other people and how small of a spark it takes to inspire the truth to come out to play.

Happily will be available on VOD on March 19th, 2021.