While I have a personal policy not to spoil entire plots, I should warn any potential viewers that the above twist isn’t the last sudden change in direction that HAPPILY makes. To put it simply, this story is a mess - and not the kind that you can’t bring yourself to look away from. None of its turns are foreshadowed, hardly any are explained, and none are ultimately satisfying. For instance, Root’s character claims that Tom and Janet are missing the ability to feel diminishing returns, which explains their long-lasting contentment. Even if the viewer takes this at face value, there’s no elaboration as to how this happened or how this mysterious figure would know, nor development of the idea as a commentary on modern romance (‘getting along with your partner is so rare that people think it’s weird!’). On my kindest day I’d assume Grabinski was going for the latter, but I’m already grasping at straws trying to make sense of it.
This story problem is exacerbated by Grabinski’s seeming uncertainty over what the film’s tone should be. Again, while it verges on the absurd, there is nothing on screen to suggest that HAPPILY is intended to be black comedy or satire. The characters sometimes trade quips to show their longstanding rapport, but they’re screenwriting shorthand, not the kind of thing viewers might actually laugh at or remember. Moreover, it’s so unclear what the stakes are that there’s hardly any tension left in the film by the time Tom and Janet arrive at the couples’ retreat, which happens within the first half an hour. From this point, any scene of them worrying that someone might find out about the stranger, or attempting to gain information, is shot coldly and lifelessly; if a thriller is a taut tightrope, this is a sagging telephone wire on a hot day.
It also doesn’t help that this is the flattest I’ve ever seen McHale, who appears to simply be reciting lines for much of the second and third acts. I suspect this comes down to how muddled Tom’s arc becomes as the viewer learns more about his past, and Grabinski not providing sufficient guidance for McHale to make sense of it and imbue his scenes with a coherent motivation. By contrast, Bishé at least delivers a more expressive performance that wouldn’t be out of place in a traditional thriller or horror film, though one scene of her crying veers into melodrama at exactly the wrong moment.
Once the couples’ retreat begins HAPPILY reveals a surprisingly impressive supporting cast, who will be particularly recognisable for avid TV viewers. However, this is largely wasted, with only Natalie Vea and Paul Scheer being given much to do, likely since their characters are the first to express annoyance with Tom and Janet’s constant PDA. Scheer is fun to watch as the snarky and successful Val, quickly establishing himself as the de facto group leader. Meanwhile, Vea adds a matter-of-fact quality to Karen’s shit-stirring that prevents her from being annoying, coming across more as someone making her own fun. The other notable supporting character is Charlene Yi as Gretel, who has hardly any lines yet delivers them so clunkily that I can’t imagine why those were the takes Grabinski left in the film. Naturally, Gretel is central to another bizarre plot twist, but Yi’s line readings made it hard for me to invest in what felt intended to be a serious moment.
Apart from the few moments where the cast manages to rise above the material, it’s hard to find anything to like about HAPPILY. There are plenty of more competently made (or endearingly schlocky) thrillers that I would recommend ahead of it, while its inability to even find a consistent tone makes it an unlikely candidate for a midnight screening or cult following. I, for one, will happily never watch it again .