Some houses are money pits. Some houses are massacre pits. In the case of "Happy Times" (Artsploitation), from gay Israeli filmmaker Michael Mayer ("Out in the Dark"), the latter holds true.
"Happy Times," now available on DVD/Blu-ray and VOD is another body count picture that follows the trend seen in rich-people-behaving-badly flicks such as "The Estate," "Ready or Not" and "Knives Out."
First things first, no gay people are harmed in "Happy Times" because there are no gay characters (whew!). Instead, we have a bunch of obnoxious straight people blood-lusting after each other for a variety of twisted reasons.
Sigal (Liraz Chamami) and Yossi (Ido Mor), Israeli transplants living in Los Angeles, are hosting a Saturday evening dinner party at their ostentatious home. Among the guests are lawyer-turned-stay-at-home-mom Hila (Iris Bahr) and her high-tech chip designer husband Avner (Alon Pdut). Their daughter goes to the same exclusive private school as Sigal and Yossi’s kids. Hila and Sigal have been working together, planning a Purim party at the school, which is evidently an honor. Hila is consumed with making a good impression while Avner couldn’t care less. Before the party is in full swing, all the children are sent off to a sleepover. Good thing for them.
Other arriving guests include Yossi’s business associate Ilan (Guy Adler) and Noya (Shani Atias), Sigal’s “movie star” cousin Michael (Michael Aloni) and his girlfriend Aliyah (Stéfi Celma), and young drug dealer Maor (Daniel Lavid). Even though there are only seven people in attendance, you can sense that there will be personality clashes, and the tension is so thick you need a hedge clipper to cut it. Fortunately, there’s one handy.
Almost immediately, they begin to rub each other the wrong way. Intentional and unintentional insults fly between Sigal and Hila, Yossi and Ilan, Michael and Maor, setting the soon-to-be blood-soaked stage. The biggest offense begins at dinner, where Michael questions Yossi’s sudden interest in religion. This is followed by Aliyah admitting that she has no plans to have children and that her career is most important to her, clearly setting Sigal and Hila on edge.
Then the fur begins to fly. A scuffle erupts between Michael and Avner. Michael is knocked out and, while unconscious in an upstairs bedroom, Maor plays a career-ruining prank on him. Maor is also involved in a violent confrontation with Yossi who catches him hitting on Sigal. But Yossi’s rage is nothing compared to Ilan’s after he finds out that Yossi cut him out of a real estate deal.
And so it goes with corpses piling up and tainted tea being spilled. For example, Yossi’s crooked bookkeeping, as well as his affair with Carmen (Sophia Santi), the housekeeper. Not even a wellness check by the police or the late arrival of Rabbi Mati (Mike Burstyn) can stop the violence.
What seems like a promising and somewhat amusing concept is undone by the haphazard pacing. The early scenes are especially awkward. Additionally, there doesn’t seem to be much purpose for the announcing of the seven segments into which "Happy Times" is broken down. They’re a distraction. Nevertheless, "Happy Times" is worth watching for the solid comedic performances by Chamami, Barh and Aloni. Blu-ray special features include a deleted scene, an alternative scene and a blooper reel.
Screen Savor is a weekly column from SFGN’s film critic Gregg Shapiro. Shapiro is an entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in regional LGBT and mainstream media outlets. Shapiro is the author of seven books including the 2019 chapbooks, Sunshine State and More Poems About Buildings and Food. Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.