Film Review: ‘Happily, Even After’3 min readReading Time: 3 minutes
As aptly described by its tagline, Happily Even After is a modern morality film; an urban fairytale. What is in essence a feel-good family movie really rolls into its package much more than it hints at on first glance. Happily Even After is an entertaining mix of a romantic chick flick peppered with a good sprinkle of insightful philosophical banter.
The film introduces us to Jake, a down-and-out nihilistic existentialist. Jobless and and in a perpetual drunken stupour, he splits most of his waking hours between bumming around the bungalow he had inherited from his parents, who tragically passed away in a taxi accident, and hooking up with what his sister would term as ‘bimbos’. His constant retorts to his sister, Elizabeth, during their routine arguments reminds us only of his deep resentment for the capitalist system and his firm belief that existence itself is meaningless. It well explains his current state of affairs and even gets us to empathize with his otherwise annoyingly incorrigible behaviour of a jerk.
In the other corner, however, is Elizabeth, elder sister to Jake, and someone who has had enough of supporting a brother that would not help himself, but yet torn between her promise to her deceased parents that she would fulfill her duty as filial daughter and elder sister, looking after Jake. But what really tips her over, despite her successful career is the fact that Jake was once a brilliant young boy — talented — and in her words “everything she could never be”. Yet here she is, forking out her cash on countless occasions to save her wreck of a brother, who has since robbed her of any social life for the last eight years.
In a whimsical twist of fate, Elizabeth, riding on the advice of an annoyingly omnipresent colleague, hires a fairy godmother for Jake in the hopes that she will fix him up. The plan was to get someone patient enough to babysit Jake and turn him around so Elizabeth would have time on her hands to actually live a social life outside of work and bailing Jake out of trouble. She decides to hire Katie, a playwright at the local community theatre who moonlights as a waitress in a laundry cafe, where Jake recognizes to having gotten her fired over an unrelated incident as depicted in the film’s prologue. Evidently enough, the inherent bad blood between the two makes way for some interesting dynamics as she sets out to try and inspire Jake. Katie interestingly becomes both Jake’s and Elizabeth’s fairy godmother as her babysitting gives both of them a chance to build their lives from their own respective states of wreck.
Helmed by Singaporean Unsu Lee, who has since moved to San Francisco (where this film is set), the film’s star-studded cast is an additional plus to the list of reasons why you should give Happily a run for its money. Dawson Creek’s star Jason Behr puts up an impressive performance as Jake – jaded, worn out and scruffy but with a hint of potential talent gleaming behind those hazel eyes that will have the ladies swooning. That, plus his drunken cool, reminiscent of a toned down Johnny Depp performance as Jack Sparrow. Playing opposite him is Fay Masterson, whose role as Elizabeth is no less impressive, if not for the rare lapses during which I can’t help but feel that she comes across as over the top. Marina Black, a familiar face on American television, plays Katie, the enigmatic fairy godmother who saves both Jake, and ultimately Elizabeth, from their spiraling lives of self depreciation in their own rights. Look out as well for interesting cameos by Ed Asner and TV’s Lost actor Jorge Garcia.
Overall a fine achievement in filmmaking, especially for a Singaporean despite the fact that the film’s premise and treatment is somewhat conventional and lacks a certain refreshing oomph to resonate through the history books of Singaporean cinema. But otherwise, Happily Even After is a feel-good family/date movie that is, in itself, a commendable, fun, urban fairytale.