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‘Happy Times’: A violent black comedy that doesn’t get funnier – review

CM 19/08/2021


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Happy Times, by Michael Mayer, is one of those black comedies where the characters commit murder after murder and it is supposed to get funnier the higher the body count climbs. If only it actually did.
These kinds of black comedies are hardly ever as funny as their creators want them to be. The high-water mark for this genre is Frank Capra’s Arsenic and Old Lace, a film version of the play, which stars Cary Grant as a man who discovers on his wedding day that his little-old-lady aunts are as efficient at killing as they are at baking cookies and crocheting doilies. Similarly, John Waters’s Serial Mom tells the story of a suburban housewife who offs people who are rude and untidy.
These two black comedies work in ways that Happy Times does not, although the film starts out promisingly, as a comedy of manners skewering the Israeli expat community, particularly the nouveau riche branch, in the US. That is certainly a subject that deserves to be lampooned. In fact, arrogant, rich Israelis in the US may be the world’s easiest target for satire, which for reasons of political correctness, can only be taken on by a fellow Israeli.

MICHAEL ALONI in his role as Akiva in the hit TV series ‘Shtisel’ (credit: Courtesy)MICHAEL ALONI in his role as Akiva in the hit TV series ‘Shtisel’ (credit: Courtesy)
Happy Times is the second feature film by Mayer. His first was the very different Out in the Dark (2012), a drama about a romance between two men, an Israeli (played by Michael Aloni from Shtisel) and a Palestinian. Happy Times is set during a Saturday night dinner at the luxurious Los Angeles home of transplanted Israelis Sigal (Liraz Chamami), an aspiring artist, and her beefy husband, Yossi (Ido Mor), a businessman and gun enthusiast (uh-oh). Their kids are off on a sleepover as they welcome fellow Israelis Ilan (Guy Adler) and his girlfriend, Noya (Shani Atias). Sigal’s friend Hila (Iris Bahr) joins the party with her husband, Avner (Alon Pdut), a veteran who suffers from PTSD. The men are all looking to make some quick cash and also want to one-up each other. There’s a young single guy, Maor (Daniel Lavid), who flirts with Sigal. Sigal’s actor cousin Michael (Aloni) comes over with his girlfriend Aliyah (Stéfi Celma, who was so wonderful as the gorgeous secretary Sofia on Call My Agent! ), also an actress. Michael disparages Yossi’s attachment to religious rituals and wants to distance himself from the other Israelis, but slowly he is drawn into their morass.
Very soon, simmering resentments and conflicts among the guests escalate, turn violent and then deadly. But the characters are not distinctive enough for us to truly care about who hits the floor next. The few laughs come from the appearance of a rabbi (Mike Burstyn). The guests unite to conceal the goings-on from him, but he senses something amiss and threatens to remove Sigal as the head of the synagogue’s Purim party.
I have found that Israeli movies that reference “happiness” or “joy” in the title generally do so with deep and unsubtle irony. Such movies as Joy, the Hebrew title of which was “We Must Be Happy,” and What a Wonderful Place, are both especially bleak films from several years back. Happy Times, the Hebrew title of which is “We’ll See Each Other at Happy Events” (an Israeli expression), is no exception to this rule. 
In Arsenic and Old Lace, it really is funny to see these old biddies calmly dispatching those who annoy them, but the comedy comes from the contrast between how sweet they seem and what they actually do. Ditto Serial Mom. Here, the characters are self-involved, status-seeking and aggressive to the point of viciousness and it is perfectly in character for them to start offing each other for no good reason, which is clearly the point. But that point does not make it funny. What you are left with is a bunch of Israelis you would rather not sit near in a cafe because they talk too loudly and are so smug killing each other. If you wouldn’t want to be anywhere near this crowd, then skip this unpleasant movie.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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The host of Coffee Mouth Scare Crow Show and CEO of 452 Impact, Inc. Here is food for thought. Romans 6:23 "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." John 3:16 "For God so love ed the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall be saved."

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