Happy Times, the new film from director Michael Mayer, has a Quentin Tarantino vibe in this what-could-possibly-go-wrong film.
I have a bone to pick about the film’s synopsis. It is described as a Shabbat dinner party. This could not be more wrong. For one, aside from the pre-dinner activities, the whole dinner party takes place following Shabbas. In this regard, the film should be billed as a Havdalah party because THAT is what is happening. If you don’t know what Havdalah is, this is the ritual ceremony that separates Shabbat (Fri night through an hour past sunset on Saturday) and the rest of the week. Meanwhile, there is another time in the film where the caption on screen says “mother fuckers.” Rather than usual the actual Hebrew, they use the Hebrew letters equivalent to the English alphabet. This is similar to the usual bumper stickers and buttons in Hebrew. Let’s not get lazy here!
Yossi (Ido Mor) and Sigal (Liraz Chamami) are hosting a dinner party for family and Israeli ex-pats on a Saturday night at their Hollywood Hills mansion. Guests include contractor Ilan (Guy Adler) and girlfriend Noya (Shani Atias), repressed executive Avner (Alon Pdut) and stay-at-home wife Hila (Iris Bahr), Sigal’s actor cousin Michael (Michael Aloni) and non-Jewish girlfriend Aliyah (Stéfi Celma), and Maor (Daniel Lavid). I wouldn’t point out that she’s not Jewish but it is completely relevant to the film’s plot. Outside of this, I’m not going to get into the specifics of how this party gets off the rails. It would completely ruin the experience. This film would not be complete without a rabbi (Mike Burstyn).
This is one of those films where anything that can go wrong will go wrong. You name it and it’s already becoming a weapon! Seriously, this is the dinner party that you DO NOT want to attend in real life! Honestly, the more I watch the film, the more I think Quentin Tarantino could have made it. Okay, there’s no foot fetish. But I’m thinking more along the lines of the usual Tarantino style. There’s a lot of blood but this film doesn’t quite come off as the gory type because of all the humor. I’m not one to care for horror but the synopsis had me alone.
I think Jewish viewers are more likely to relate to Happy Times but Israeli viewers will almost certainly relate to the film. My only regret as far as understanding the film without needing the subtitles is that my Hebrew is nowhere close to fluent. I know what I need for davening during Shacharis/Mincha/Maariv and prayers during meals but this is about it.
There’s a part in the film when the cops stop by after Yossi and Sigal’s neighbor’s report hearing a gun shot. Hila quit her life as an attorney in order to raise children so she gets all lawyer on them. Officer Rodriguez (Rigo Obezo) and I both had the same reaction: “What holiday?” Officer Rodriguez somehow thinks Rosh Hashanah is the only Jewish holiday. Clearly, we are not doing our public relations campaign right. Maybe they were celebrating the Jewish Space Laser holiday? I’m sure it’s a thing, right?!?
Happy Times is bonkers wild but this film is the right type of bonkers even if no respectable Jewish dinner party features this type of awful behavior. Can we get out of control? Sure but usually with a competitive game…
DIRECTOR: Michael Mayer
SCREENWRITERS: Guy Ayal and Michael Mayer
CAST: Michael Aloni, Liraz Chamami, Iris Bahr, Alon Pdut, Stéfi Celma, Ido Mor, Guy Adler, Shani Atias, Daniel Lavid, and Mike Burstyn