Review: Original and Unpredictable, Happily Puts a Perfect Marriage, and the Two People in it, to the Test

To celebrate making his first feature, entertainment journalist-turned-filmmaker BenDavid Grabinski decided to write and direct a movie that defies categorization. Most will call Happily a dark comedy with splashes of romance and a pinch of low-grade horror, and all of those descriptions are true, but they don’t quite cover this joyfully oddball work about friends who aren’t your friends and the price one young couple must pay for always being happy.

The couple in question are Tom (Joel McHale) and Janet (Kerry Bishé), whose friends deeply resent them for not only being happily married for more than 10 years but also lustful for each other every day (2.5 times per day, on average, we’re told). Their passion puts others off so much that the couple are disinvited to a couples’ trip with four other couples. While they contemplate their feelings on the matter, a mysterious stranger (Stephen Root) shows up with a suitcase containing two vials, which he says will correct a mistake in their genetic makeup that apparently makes it near impossible for them to fight or stop having sex. He calls this condition a mistake and the strange serum the “correction.” Not wanting to be freaks among all others in the world, they consider this (not that they’re given a choice), but when Tom briefly leaves the room, Janet clocks the stranger with a heavy object, killing him.

After burying him in the back yard, the couple are re-invited to the gathering (everyone apparently felt guilty about being so cruel), so they pack the car and head for the secluded, luxury rental home for the weekend. The other couples include best friends Val (Paul Scheer) and Karen (Natalie Zea); Donald (Jon Daly) and Patricia (Natalie Morales); Carla (Shannon Woodward) and Maude (Kirby Howell-Baptiste); and Richard (Breckin Meyer) with new partner Gretel (Charlyne Yi). And over the next couple of days, loyalties are questioned, motives are revealed, true feelings are put on display, and a confession circle is formed that is about as brutal as anything you’ll likely see this year.

Filmmaker Grabinski allows his actors to inhabit these characters, even if it means playing against type. I was especially impressed with McHale’s mostly non-comedic take on Tom and his emotional conundrum of being too good a guy for most people, being willing to consider changing himself if it means being more liked. Everyone in the house goes through similar existential crises, as if something in the rarified air is forcing them to look honestly at their lives and be their own harshest judge. Bishé is also quite strong here as a person so afraid of change that she commits murder to preserve her own life, but then, she’s the first one to spot Root’s character outside of the carefully dug grave she and Tom placed him in a day earlier.

Many questions about this scenario are left unanswered (which I’m more than fine with), while certain conflicts resolve themselves perhaps a bit too tidily, but Happily has such a great vibe of unpredictability and originality that it’s difficult to do much more than kick back and wonder what marvelous, twisted thing will happen next. Once you’ve made your way through any Oscar nominees you haven’t seen yet, give this one a spin.

The film is now playing in select theaters and via VOD. Follow CDC, health department and venue guidelines if attending indoor screenings.

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Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.