Tiempos Felices (2014) / Comedy-Romance
aka Happy Times
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but would be R for sexual content and language
Running Time: 80 min.
Cast: Luis Arrieta, Cassandra Ciangherotti, Humberto Busto, Ivan Arana, Barbara De Regil, Miguel Rodarte
Director: Luis Javier M. Henaine
Screenplay: Luis Javier M. Henaine, Alejandra Olvera Avila
Review published January 31, 2015
Nebbish illustrator Max (Arrieta, Cantinflas) is a man who just can't seem to face the music when it comes to breaking up with his girlfriend of five years, Monica (Ciangherotti, Even the Rain). He starts and stops in many ways, but in the end, he just can't stand the notion of seeing her torn apart by the news, knowing she's at the point where she's ready for marriage and a happily-ever-after. Desperate times call for desperate measures, as he is given a tip that there is an agency out there that will get rid of that person from your life for good.
Happy Times marks the debut film for Mexican director and co-writer Luis Javier M. Henaine, and, if nothing else, this black comedy shows that Wes Anderson's influence as a director has begun to influence others around the world. The film is chock full of symmetrical framing of shots, delicately quirky music, greeting-card worthy illustrations, retro furnishings (the film seems to be set in the mid-1980s), and wildly kooky characters that carry a bit of sadness around with them. Henaine does a remarkable job in emulation, enough to see he is quite a talent himself, but it will be nice to see if he can deviate from Anderson's technique in future projects, instead of playing in his shadow.
Though the film is called Happy Times, the title is ironic, as there's really not much happy about the situation of a boyfriend having to tell the woman who absolutely adores him that he'd rather be alone than with her. Or that he'd rather be with her sister, as Max can't help but fantasize about the hot sib Andrea anytime she's in the vicinity.
The cast is quite good, especially the leads, with Cassandra Ciangherotti making for a very funny comedienne in the vein of a Lucille Ball, except with the occasional dramatic moment. Luis Arrieta, who reminded me a bit in appearance like a mix of Sam Rockwell and Chris Evans, is likeable in the role, even if we don't really like what he does, and then ultimately don't like the character of Max himself, who seems like a selfish coward unworthy of the affection he gets.
While Henaine's film is quite clever in concept, and very funny at times in execution, the sitcom farce vibe does occasionally feel like it is stretched out beyond its means to sustain momentum, even at a meager 80 minutes in length. Another downside is that we end up sympathizing with Monica too much, and feeling like she is not only a wonderful girlfriend (if a tad daft), but that she deserves a great deal more respect as a human being, if not a lover, than the heartless treatment she gets from Max.
Happy Times is funny enough in premise and execution to recommend, but it does have several potential places where it could have easily ended, but continues on. Unfortunately, you might prefer one of the endings that gets supplanted by one or two of the others, leaving you feeling dissatisfied that defeat is snatched from the jaws of victory by the end. Regardless, I personally enjoy Henaine's daring in toying with the conventions of a most conventional genre, and in the end, I do end up caring far more for the characters than many other examples churned out by the Hollywood system, month in and month out.
©2015 Vince Leo