Director Michael Mayer’s “Happy Times” is a horror/comedy about a Shabbat dinner gone terribly wrong. Yossi, an American/Israeli businessman and his wife invite friends and family to their Hollywood Hills home for a dinner party that soon becomes filled with inflated egos, alcohol and jealousy. What was supposed to be a quiet evening soon becomes “murderous mayhem”.
Characters include a businessman who made it big and his wife, a real estate man who doesn’t succeed and his wife, a former lawyer who became a housewife and her husband a young kid, and a good actor who tries His luck in Hollywood and his African girlfriend. Most of the actors in the intimate production are Israelis living in Los Angeles: Ido Moore, Shani Atias, Guy Adler, Iris Behar, and Daniel Lavid, joined by Liraz Hammi who works in London, Alon Padot who lives in Austin, Texas and Michael Aloni is the only one left in Israel. This group, speaks Hebrew most of the time and works well together and it is their chemistry that drives the plot from twist to twist through “witty words and jagged barbs.
The film can be seen as controversial. The acts of violence and atrocities will probably cause people to stay way, yet they also invite cynical self-criticism that is not too serious. The California sun replaces the shores of the Mediterranean, where secular capitalism is run by religious rituals. For example, we see a shofar and hamsa displayed on the wall as household decorations yet they become improvised and deadly weapons. An evening that began with the traditional blessing of wine, kiddush, ends with kaddish, the prayer for the dead.
Michael Mayer, who was born in Haifa in 1973 and moved to Los Angeles, where he still lives and works blends comedy and tension with great success. His Yossi looks down on his guests who are an incompatible group that is connected with a relationship of interest rather than friendship. They try to hide their feelings of anger, jealousy and enmity towards the host and each other.
Trying to distance himself from his Jewish roots, Michael’s attacks on the concepts of religiosity and family fuel the fire that is already ready burn. When the group’s anger against Michael erupts, fights fueled by egos inflated with the support of alcohol, cultural separation between Jews and non-Jews, envy, greed, arrogance and lust become unstoppable. As events that started out like a classic bourgeois feast goes out of whack. Religion and family turn the twists and the tension begins to rise at the same rate as black humor through the criminal and powerful characters.
You can only imagine what extremes a meal can go to when a number of people from different origins sit at the table to celebrate the Sabbath. Even with all of the violence, this is a very funny movie with tension coming out of black and dark humor. Mayer brings a slapstick and sinister critique of all human, sexual, emotional, and economic relationships. None of the characters of the story, including the rabbi, are clean enough to ignore Mayer’s aggressive accusation. This point of view is also a self-criticism towards the contrast-filled Israeli microcosm set under in California instead of Israel.
The plot includes exciting secret clues about Jewish traditions, Israeli post-trauma, and Israeli communities overseas. Traditional values are made fun of and turned inside out. If a non-Jewish-Israeli director had made this very offensive film, it would probably be considered to be anti-Semitic.
“Happy Times” is an example of a chamber cinema that has been masterfully handled in cinema, and it is a tremendously paced work that is watched breathlessly despite the fact that it takes place in only one place. It is a very well written, well played, very successful black comedy that brings together a sarcastic self-criticism with a comic thriller. So can you tell what I really thought about the film? I hope not because I want you to be free to come to your own decision.