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When it comes to special event/dinner movies, the formula seems to be pretty standard; get everyone together, introduce their backstories and their tensions with one another, and let things go as they may. Though I would admit I didn't know what would be coming in Happy Times, the latest effort from Michael Mayer (Out in the Darks), the talented Israeli director.
Mayer also wrote the script with Written by Guy Ayal, about a Shabbat dinner/Havdalah celebration, where a family comes together. Ido Mor (Iron Man) is Yossi, host of the dinner in a multimillion dollar house in California, with his wife Sigal (Liraz Chamami). Yossi's friend in business Avner (Alon Pdut) is looked down on by many, including his wife Hila (Iris Bahr, Good Girls). Sigal is infatuated by Maor (Daniel Lavid) and Yossi's cousin Michael (Michael Aloni) has potentially brought a Palestinian girl to dinner. Tensions between the family come to a violent boil.
These types of films that go from dinner to death have been a limited genre, and I guess it was natural that things made the leap to that when it came to dysfunctional families breaking bread and then skulls. And the tension that Mayer has the characters elude to is palpable for sure, because the backstories feel like things that are believable in one fashion or another.
Where a lot of films can trip up in the third act, weirdly it seems like Happy Times trips up in the second; things escalate so quickly and viscerally that it tends to lose the tension that the first act built up. It kind of becomes Battle Royale in Brentwood, and it's a mix of comedy to diffuse the moments of horror, and also some of the horror becomes comic, like not believable. It wastes the investment of the first act for the sensationalism in the second.
The ensemble's work is earnest in this, and the closest thing the film has to an antagonist may be Avner (Pdut handles the slow burn well, but the attempt to capture psychopathy is a little bit of a reach. But given that everyone has been in their homes in one manner or fashion for 14 months, a film like Happy Times where everyone starts trying to kill everyone else was a natural step, even if it was shot and released in 2019.The Blu-ray:
The 2.39:1 widescreen presentation for the film includes a lot of included light into the dinner moments, and the brighter moments when the guests arrive are natural and without issue. The colors are fine but don't really stand out, and the image detail is there but not jaw dropping in tighter moments of facial detail, fabrics and such.The Sound:
The DTS-HD MA track is largely Hebrew-language driven, with some American and Spanish thrown in for good measure. Dialogue is consistent for the duration of the film, and when the violence starts and things like a kiln firing on or a garbage disposal turn on (and a sink flood up with water), things are natural sounding and provide a gently subtle immersion layer. Not overly impressive but gets the job done.The Extras:
You get an alternate scene (1:24), a deleted scene (:51) and a blooper reel (7:35) chock full of flubs.Final Thoughts:
In retrospect, Happy Times wants to be a slasher film while trying to have some sort of emotional gravitas with the parties at the dinner table, and the attempt is nice but the mix is just a tiny bit off. Technically the disc looks and sounds fine as the extras are underwhelming, but worth checking out for a change of pace viewing.