Welcome to Fistful of Features, a celebration of film preservation through physical media and the discussion of cinematic treasures to maintain their relevance in the cultural lexicon. Today we’ll be focusing on the directorial debut of BenDavid Grabinski, a morality exercise draped in heady sci-fi concepts, the pitch-black romantic comedy Happily.
“Happiness is a warm gun.” — John Lennon
The credulous spontaneity of Tom (Joel McHale) and Janet (Kerry Bishe) is completely indifferent from the jaded perspective of partygoers grooving to the rhythm of Sylvester’s luscious “Do Ya Wanna Funk.” After routinely consummating 14 years of unadulterated marital bliss in Val and Karen’s (Paul Scheer and Natalie Zea) bathroom at their lively soirée, Tom and Janet’s social circle have had quite enough of them showing off.
After a blunt dinner revelation that sees them coldly uninvited to a couples retreat, Tom and Janet receive an odd visitation at their home the following morning. An esoteric man (Stephen Root) with briefcase in hand appears to be the character type who would introduce the inciting incident in a Richard Matheson novella appears unannounced at their door. He informs them that their peculiar attachment to one another is essentially a result of an imbalance to their universal counterparts and he offers the cure to this dilemma in two separate syringes along with an offer of financial compensation for their troubles. This otherworldly encounter, of course, ends in said inciting incident and the bewildered couple must now deal with the barbarous consequences.
Happily is an intriguing allegory on love and jealousy that doesn’t always live up to its potential, but the ideas that are brought to the table are none the less admirable when not underutilized. When Tom is given a tour of the mansion where the couples will be vacationing together, we’re introduced to a secluded and sterile room stockpiled with countless artillery that’s haphazard explained as belonging to the owner’s eccentric avocation of big game hunting. That concept is then tossed aside conveniently until Tom will coincidentally need a gun.
The impressive supporting cast is, unfortunately, not given much motivation other than the casual distraction from time to time. The talented Charlyne Yi (Knocked Up) is funny when she needs to be, but her character is so underdeveloped that she’s never given much of an afterthought despite her commanding presence. Ironically, in order for the parable of enlightenment to completely work in this presented scenario is for all of these characters to come to terms with their own perspectives. Perhaps if there was an opportunity for more collaboration during production, they might have been able to add more layers to their characters and punctuate the concepts that Grabinski wants to drive home.
Another issue is the lack of finesse with the continuous needle drops. When Quentin Tarantino places a pop song in one of his films, the result feels, more often than not, organic. Here, it can come across a bit distracting when your using Public Image Ltd.’s “The Order of Death” from their album Hardware or your emotional climax is Fire Inc.’s “Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young” from Streets Of Fire. After a while, it just draws attention to itself like a Spotify playlist of Grabinski’s favorite ‘80s soundtracks rotating in defiance of his vision being perpetuated on screen. There’s plenty of promise shown in this admirable swing from a filmmaker who appears to be interested in more than pandering to the beat of Hollywood’s inattentive drum, and here’s hoping the next swing comes closer to the fences.
Happily Special Features
Feature-length commentary with writer/director BenDavid Grabinski
Available on DVD and digital beginning May 25th, 2021.