Starring: Noël Wells, Ben Schwartz, Rahul Kohli
Director: Jared Stern
Running Time: 78 mins
Happy Anniversary is an American film about a couple who, on their third anniversary, decide whether to continue on together or break up, leading them to look into the past of their relationship.
More often than not, this brand of ultra-small scale, independent romantic dramas don’t pack the same punch of those a little higher up the ladder. Fortunately, Happy Anniversary is a fantastic exception to the rule, proving both a delightfully heartfelt, dramatically engrossing and properly funny watch throughout, complete with two excellent lead performances that lend a strong and touching intimacy to the film as a whole.
Let’s start off with that side to the film, its strikingly intimate atmosphere, which allows it to be so engrossing and surprisingly moving throughout. Above all, this is a story that examines the concept of a relationship, portrayed through a series of incredibly deep and frank conversation between our two leads. You could compare it to the likes of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf in its examination of dysfunctional relationships (although this film is far less frightening), but it’s the frankness with which the two characters go about their discussions about how to make their relationship work that really allows you to gain an intimate insight into their personalities, making for an emotionally riveting watch throughout.
The two lead performances from Ben Schwartz and Noël Wells are also integral in making that intimate atmosphere have such an effect. Not only do the two make a great on-screen couple, with fantastic chemistry that makes their relationship fully convincing, but they also both give performances that balance the film’s lighter, comedic atmosphere with its serious drama. You may think at first that the film is a quirky romance, and the bright-eyed performances from the leads early on would support that, however as the film goes on, it becomes more and more apparent that you’re watching an emotionally pivotal moment in the lives of the two, the central performances reflect that growingly dramatic air.
Along with the impressive emotional power of the film, we can’t forget that its small-scale quirkiness adds an extra charm. Thanks to a good sense of humour that feels both real-world and appropriate in the context of the film’s drama, Happy Anniversary is an enjoyable and funny watch throughout, and thanks to its wonderfully short and sweet running time, it feels like a delightful drop of drama to digest in just over an hour, counterbalancing any moment in which the film’s drama may seem too heavy.
On the whole, this is a rather impressive film, particularly for its small scale, however it’s not quite perfect. As I said, although it’s often well-balanced by the humour, the drama can seem a little too heavy and even melodramatic at times, particularly towards the third act. Also, there are times when the on-screen rapport between the two leads is so good that you can’t quite believe they’d be a dysfunctional couple. The screenplay of course demonstrates that well, but it does come as a bit of a shock when the two hit their first troubles early on.
Overall, however, I really liked Happy Anniversary. On the one hand, its small-scale intimacy makes for a dramatically riveting and often even moving watch, and yet it still has the cutesy charm and humour of a small indie comedy, furthered by two great central performances from Ben Schwartz and Noël Wells, which is why I’m giving it a 7.7.