Sunday, February 07, 2021

Happy Times, from Israel

You're invited to a dinner party. They are serving hot death and cold bile on the menu. It starts as a social gathering and turns into a frenzy of murder. That might sound unlikely, but it all goes down in Brentwood, O.J.’s old neighborhood, so maybe it sort of makes sense. Regardless, you better steel yourself for a little bloodshed in Michael Mayer’s Happy Times, which releases this Tuesday on VOD and DVD.

Dodgy Yossi is much richer than the rest of his guests and he is not about to let them forget it. It is why his trophy wife Sigal puts up with him. The Israeli ex-pats are hosting Michael, a resentful actor not making it in LA and his awkwardly not Jewish girlfriend, Aliyah, as well as snobby tech executive Avner, who still suffers from service-related PTSD and his neurotic wife, Hila. They will also be joined by divorced contractor Ilan, whose business depends on Yossi’s meager patronage and his New Agey girlfriend Noya, as well as Maor, Yossi’s young employee, who rather unsubtly carries a torch for Sigal. Plus, their Rabbi will eventually roll in to collect the couple’s latest reluctant donation.

Alcohol and [un]controlled substances will exacerbate pre-existing tensions and instant dislikes. Initially, the violence is accidental, but it quickly and deliberately escalates. Unfortunately, Sigal and Yossi’s house could serve as the set for a revival of Ira Levin’s
Deathtrap, because there are all kinds of antique firearms, crossbows, and gold old fashion carving knives lying around, just waiting to be put to ill-use.

Happy Times
is not for the faint of heart, but if you do not mind a little gore, it is wickedly amusing. The film will inevitably be categorized as horror, due to the volume of blood and the mounting body count, but it is really just a dark comedy—real dark. Yet, Mayer is a master at pulling off each successively over-the-top one-darned-thing-after-another.

Seriously, in a more just world Liraz Chamami would be walking away with an Oscar for playing Sigal, because she is an awesome force to behold. She ranges from sultry and seductive to stone cold ruthless, but she is completely hilarious and weirdly relatable when she is just trying to hold it all together in tiger-mom mode. Major Israeli star Michael Aloni also goes for broke as his obnoxious and unhinged namesake. Frankly, nobody is holding back here, except maybe Mike Burstyn who ironically gets big laughs taking the understated approach [comparatively] as the tardy Rabbi.

In terms of tone,
Happy Times is sort of the Israeli equivalent of Russia’s Why Don’t You Just Die. Frankly, some of the jokes and characterizations of Israelis would be problematic, if it weren’t coming from Israeli filmmakers and thesps. Their ability to roast themselves knows no bounds and little sense of decorum. It is all quite unruly and blood-spattered, but it is indeed funny. Highly recommended for fans of cult films, Happy Times releases this Tuesday (2/9) on VOD and DVD.