The title Happy Times is an intentional misnomer. The film starts off with several Israeli-Americans arriving for a dinner party at a palatial estate. But it does not take long for these friends and family members to grate on each other’s nerves so much that a fight breaks out. While one of them is knocked out cold, tensions remain high, eventually leading to a death. Will years of pent up hostility and grievances leave anyone alive after the night is over?
Written by Guy Ayal and director Michael Mayer Happy Times takes a good 45-minutes to get going. Before then, the first half is just spent listening to obnoxious, self-obsessed people be obnoxious and self-obsessed, and it is not all that engrossing. See, every character here is so annoying and pretentious that it is a slog to sit through. Once the point of it all is revealed, hating all these people becomes much more fun. As such, Mayer should trim the excess and have the (semi-accidentally) shooting occur 20-25 minutes in, allowing the predicament to throw everyone off.
“…several Israeli-Americans arriving for a dinner party…tensions remain high, eventually leading to a death.”
The subsequent fallout, including a visit from the cops (which is poorly handled and inaccurate as it currently stands), be the thrust of forward momentum. But alas, what we have is a flick consisting of two very distinct and uneven halves. Happily, the second half is very strong, with a lot of the biting one-liners and snippy family dialogue morphing into comedically dark situations for everyone at the party. Mayer does bland setups during the dinner party before it goes awry. Once the crap hits the fan, he moves the camera more often, allowing the rage of the characters to be felt in the filmmaking style.
Plus, the entire cast of Happy Times is rather remarkable. While their characters all deserved to be punched upon first meeting them, the actors all deliver. Each of them handles the quick dialogue and switching from English and Hebrew very well. The standouts are Stéfi Celma as Ailyah, whose comedic timing is killer, and Michael Aloni as Michael, who sells the action-horror beats very believably. But the entire cast gets a moment or two to shine and are really fun.
Happy Times will reward patient viewers, as the second half is great (and for those curious, very reminiscent of the brilliant Ready Or Not). But the first 45-minutes will, rightfully so, turn off some audience members, as the characters are hard to empathize with, and it is kind of boring. Luckily, the cast is strong and the direction kinetic, meaning that as frustrating as the movie gets, it is ultimately very worth it.
"…the cast is strong and the direction kinetic..."