Happily: A Refreshingly Surreal Rom-Com

Following in the tradition of The One I Love, The Invitation, The Overnight, Coherence, It’s a Disaster… Happily is an excellent example of the ‘millennial couples encounter surreal and romantic drama while staying in a house together’ genre.

The film centers on Kerry Bishé and Joel McHale as a couple who, despite having been married for fourteen years, have a shockingly healthy and steamy relationship. Their friends make this abundantly clear in the opening exposition, spelling out to the audience multiple times how unnatural their love is.

It’s an unfortunate case of showing and telling, when showing would have been sufficient. McHale and Bishé are phenomenal as the overly star-crossed lovers; McHale in particular seems born for the part. Their innocent view of love and commitment is absurd, their quick forgiveness and constant flirting is hysterically unrealistic, and there’s no doubt that they genuinely do love each other.

Turns out, their undying love for each other may be a cosmic fluke, says the mysterious man with the briefcase. He says they’re biologically broken, and they need to be ‘fixed’ so that their passion fades, they build up resentment towards each other, they’re more inclined to cheat… I.e. they need to become ‘normal’. The lovers are sincerely confused – isn’t their relationship normal already? So, they kill him, and begin to suspect he was an actor whom their friends hired to prank them.

They then proceed to go on a weekend couples retreat with their friends, and when their friends start acting hostile, they assume it’s all part of the prank. What they fail to realize, being adorably oblivious, is that their friends just don’t like them. Surprise surprise, none of the unhappily-married couples can tolerate a genuinely happy relationship.

The ensuing misunderstandings, and the larger mystery of the man with the briefcase, is an ongoing source of comic relief. It’s not always clear to the couple, or the audience, whether the surreal events of the movie are genuinely surreal, or are just real life. The characters make observations about how ‘this feels like something out of a sci-fi movie’. Every comment could be construed as being part of a conspiracy, or simply passive-aggressive venting. Tense noir shots are abruptly cut off for comic effect. Oh, and the house is equipped with an armory, almost like the landlord is preparing them for a final shootout scene.

And even so, it’s hard to tell where the plot is headed. This is definitely a fun journey to take, not knowing which side the conclusion will land on. Is it all just real life, or is there a Twilight Zone-esque twist? The film’s ending is satisfying without offering a nice explanation – one of the characters actually interrupts the explanation because they just want to go home. It’s a delightful subversion on the genre, and while some people may find it underwhelming, I thought it fit the overall tone perfectly.

So… if you’re looking for something original, something meta, something that toes the line between genuinely surreal and mundanely surreal, then this is a great choice. It’s not quite the masterpiece of The One I Love, but it has the potential to become a cult classic with time.