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Obsessive love: Dark comedy ‘Happily’ starts with a sizzle and ends with a shrug

Joel McHale and Kerry Bishe in a scene from the film “Happily.” (Courtesy of Saban Films)

We’re at a party where a tall and handsome man makes eye contact with a stunningly attractive woman from across the room, and we can see there’s an immediate connection between the two. Moments later, they’re in the bathroom, engaged in wild and passionate coupling while an impatient partygoer waits outside. Why can’t these two get a room?

As a matter of fact, they have a room; more accurately, an entire house, seeing as how they’ve been married for 14 years. And yet they’re still as hot for each other as they were on their honeymoon, much to the annoyance of, well, everyone they know. What is WRONG with this couple? How can they still be all over one another as if they’re 14 weeks and not 14 years into a relationship? They almost never fight, they treat each other with uncommon respect and caring, and they have sex two or three times a day. It’s not natural, and it’s irritating, and it’s just plain weird, and somebody needs to do something about it.

That’s the intriguing premise of writer-director BenDavid Grabinski’s pitch-black comedy “Happily,” which is filmed with unmistakable style and features an outstanding cast of familiar faces but eventually unravels in a maddeningly unsatisfying third act that almost flaunts its unfinished business. There’s nothing inherently wrong in leaving some things open-ended, but “Happily” opts out of giving us answers in such a flippant, offhand manner that we feel betrayed for investing in the story to that moment. And that’s such a shame, because there’s so much promise in this premise, which plays like a weirdly sunny episode of “Black Mirror” or “The Twilight Zone,” with various characters taking the verbal knives out and cutting as deep as possible even as they proclaim their friendship and love for one another.

Stephen Root in a scene from the film “Happily.” (Courtesy of Saban Films)

Kerry Bishe is the gorgeous and warmhearted Janet, and Joel McHale is her chiseled and caring husband, Tom, who is often seen shirtless, and McHale is in such great shape he looks like he could have been Ryan Gosling’s trainer for “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” Their constant displays of public affection and semipublic groping have annoyed their friends to the point at which they’re disinvited to a weekend getaway with the gang – and that’s right around the time a mysterious stranger with the misleading name of Goodman (Stephen Root) shows up at their front door with two giant needles filled with a serum that will “normalize” Janet and Tom, i.e., correct the glitch in the Matrix and turn them into a typical married couple who bicker and have sex two or three times a month instead of two or three times a day.

Suffice to say things don’t go as planned, but Janet and Tom get a last-minute invite to the weekend getaway at an enormous house that has a secret gun room, and that’s never a good thing. Reliable comedic hands such as Paul Scheer, Natalie Morales, Breckin Meyer, Natalie Zea and Shannon Woodward play old and new friends who reveal dark secrets, jab at one another, get super-drunk and process the fact that a murder has been committed – or has it? “Happily” is filled with sly references to other films and some bitingly funny dialogue, but then we get to that aforementioned fork in the road where we’re either going to find out what’s really going on or everyone is just going to shrug their shoulders and move on, and the film suffers greatly for taking the latter path.

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