Happy Anniversary is an independent rom-com about dealing with those ‘grass is always greener’ existential crises that we’ve all had, where you question all the decisions you’ve made, and everything you have, because of the slight of chance that something you don’t have is better.
Released on Netflix on 30 March, Happy Anniversary follows the tumultuous relationship of Mollie and Sam, played by Nöel Wells and Ben Schwartz (who played my fave man-child Jean-Ralphio in Parks and Recreation). It takes place on the day of their third year anniversary, when Mollie unexpectedly announces she’s not happy. A series of flashbacks ensues, and we bounce from past and present while they attempt to work out if they should stay together. Basically, Happy Anniversary is a more energetic and slightly less gloomy version of (500) Days of Summer.
Written and directed by Jared Stern, it’s a stray from his usual style of work, which includes Lego Batman, The Watch, and sit-com Dr. Ken. This becomes obvious as the film moves along, on occasion in a disorientating blend of styles. It’s an indie film with a few Hollywood stereotypes dispersed underneath, and some really cheesy one liners that diminish the flawed yet loveable protagonists.
“It’s not called ‘gently reclining’ in love. It’s called falling in love. Because, yeah, it could hurt, but you’re never gonna know unless you jump off the ledge.”
Mollie is a typical character for Wells - the quirky and confident girl – similar to her roles in Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, and her previous Netflix film Mr. Roosevelt (directed and written by Wells - 100% recommend watching). However, unlike these roles, in Happy Anniversary her dialogue often feels forced and unnatural. Wells’ performance is often let down by the script writing, which on occasion causes the dialogue to feel forced, unnatural and cliché. Perhaps this is where Sterns Hollywood history works against him.
The most contrived aspect of Mollie is her attitude towards marriage: “You want to know why I cry at a wedding? Because I feel bad for the bride.”
We get it. Marriage is a total scam and a waste of money, and it’s only a measurement of success because traditional norms tell us that coupling up with your lobster and creating offspring is the meaning of life. Mollie’s opinion re: marriage is important to understanding her outlook towards love and relationships, but you don’t have to blatantly remind us so often, Jared!
Deciding whether I love or despise Ed, Sam’s best friend, is a rollercoaster of emotions. In the initial scenes of the film, Ed, played by Rahul Kohli, is a relatable and supportive friend. He encourages Sam to push through those good ol’ standards of hegemonic masculinity and be open with his emotions. Fantastic. But Ed gradually transforms into that obnoxious friend in every Matthew McConaughey movie that hates the girlfriend (advising Sam to “assert his dominance”) and likens her to a dog (but apparently that’s okay because “it’s coming from a dog person”).
He also relies on the pull-out method of contraception “when he remembers it”. What. A. Dingus. In a film where the two main characters are so accessible, Ed is disappointing and overacted in contrast. Speaking of which, Willa - the buyer and potential investor for Sam and Ed’s t-shirt business – is oversexualised in a way that contributes absolutely nothing to the story. Please explain.
The dynamic of Mollie and Sam’s relationship is the biggest strength of the film. It’s very honest in its portrayal of an imperfect relationship, and ultimately, of imperfect people. It doesn’t shy away from showing each character’s follies and vices, or the dark moments we’ve all experienced on a shit day that make us say savage things we don’t mean to people we love. But Wells and Schwartz bring a softness to the characters, and their endearing and self-deprecating humour allows the story to stay light hearted.
If you’re into quirky rom-coms that make you laugh under your breath but also kill that glimmer of hope for a perfect relationship, then you’ll probably like this.
I give Happy Anniversary 3/5