New Israeli Movie Ironically Explores the ‘Happy Times’
When the kids are away, the adults will play. But they don’t play nicely in Happy Times. The film, written by Guy Ayal and Michael Mayer, seems like a tribute to Quentin Tarantino. In fact, the famous director is even mentioned by a character in the film, which is broken up into chapters and has quite a bit of violence and cursing.
Fans of the Netflix hit Shtisel, where Michael Aloni plays a Haredi character who is deeply religious, will see him here play Michael, a secular small-time actor who comes to his cousin Sigal’s Saturday night dinner in Brentwood, California. He brings a beautiful African-American actress named Aliyah as his date (Stefi Celma), and warns her it might not be a great time. Michael mockingly makes the Havdalah blessing, and says that the siddur, or Hebrew prayer book, is “condescending and misogynistic.”
Though the dialogue doesn’t quite reach Tarantino’s level, it’s pretty funny, especially when someone uses a shofar as a weapon. Sigal (Liraz Chamami) wants everyone to have a good time and wants to be clear that she and her family are not racist; she wants her husband’s date to feel at home. Things take a turn when Michael clogs the bathroom. He throws the first punch, and soon enough, everyone is mad at everyone and chaos ensues. The film, which is in Hebrew and English, doesn’t seek to have any great meaning.
Aloni is on point in his comedic timing from the first moment we see him in an eye-patch. His character is rightly enraged when someone takes a compromising picture of him while he is passed out, and sends it to his contacts. Sigal’s husband Avner (Alon Pdut) wants to show off his wealth and prove to everybody he is a big shot. But when he sees his wife do something he can’t believe, he goes nuts.
The only real moment of suspense occurs when a police officer shows up, and then when a rabbi shows up and finds himself at the right place at the wrong time. He surely regrets lending an ear to this family on this occasion.
I would have liked Noya (Shani Atias) to have a bigger role, but she is effective. Guy Adler (who looks like an Israeli Brad Pitt) plays Ilan, a naive guy who gets betrayed and can’t believe it.
The biggest laugh I had was when Sigal says goodbye to Aliyah despite some inexplicable things that took place. Fans who recognize Mike Burstyn, who plays Moti the rabbi and is happy to sit down and eat a plate of Sigal’s famous roast chicken, will really enjoy his performance. When he tells Sigal that something suspicious is going on and that he will remove her as the planner of the synagogue’s Purim party, it’s priceless.
Happy Times obviously has an ironic title, but serves as a warning of not having big egos, being too focused on money, or coveting someone else’s spouse. It starts off too slow, but when it gets going, it rolls nicely. And it also might make you feel better. Think of the worst family dinner you ever had, and this one will still dwarf it by comparison.
The film became available in America this month on YouTube and Amazon, and costs $4.99 for a digital rental.
The author is a writer and educator based in New York.