Love is a great Netflix show that recently concluded its three-season run. It’s about a couple of people who start dating and go through trials and tribulations that might break them apart. Now Netflix has a new movie, Happy Anniversary, that is basically a short, sanitized version of Love. It lacks the depth, intrigue, and humor of the show.
The two leads are Mollie (Noël Wells) and Sam (Ben Schwartz), and it’s their three-year anniversary. In the morning, Mollie declares she’s not happy. The rest of the film sees them apart for more time than they’re together, talking over their problems with friends and flashing back to key moments of the relationship over the past three years. They have to decide whether to stay together or break up, because if you don’t “know” after three years, it’s probably going to wind up being the latter.
Their problems aren’t all that interesting. Mollie won’t “let herself” be happy, Sam claims, while Sam … just doesn’t make Mollie happy, she says. It’s ill-defined why they aren’t currently working. Neither is a bad person and they don’t dislike each other. They have a strong chemistry. And while Sam believes that life with Mollie is exciting—even if it does have many ups and downs—we don’t see much of that. Their relationship is a pretty dull movie relationship, which might be part of the point but doesn’t make or the most engaging watch.
Yes, Happy Anniversary is aiming to be a realistic movie. Its characters are more like the people you’d run into every day, and their problems are pretty small, overall, as a result. The problem here is not this approach but the execution. We’re kept at arms’ length from these people. They’re not the couple we get to know intimately; they’re the people you meet a couple of times a year and only get a vague sense of who they even are. The movie only runs for 80 minutes or so, which isn’t enough time to build them up, even if the dull flashbacks hope to accomplish that task.
Happy Anniversary lacks the intimacy and depth to involve us in its central romance.
What that means is that, when it comes down to the ultimate make-or-break moment, it’s hard to care. They’re not terribly interesting, we’re not invested in their relationship, and they seem to be fine both apart and together. If they decide to split, we know it’ll be okay. And if they’re together? Hooray, I guess? We don’t have the investment in them for it to matter. The film doesn’t feature many attempts at generating emotion, either—on the part of its characters and its audience. We don’t get the intimacy we need to truly care.
There are a couple of funny lines but not as many as writer-director Jared Stern, who is making his directorial debut, hoped. Most of them fall flat or illicit a slight chuckle at best. The script lacks jokes and depth. Noël Wells and Ben Schwartz are likable enough as these characters but can’t do much to give them anything that stands out. Rahul Kohli, in a supporting role, gets more interesting things to do than both of them combined.
Happy Anniversary is covering territory that Netflix has already covered with Love, but doing it in a simpler, shallower, less interesting way that generates far fewer laughs. You could watch any episode of that show and get more out of it than Happy Anniversary has to deliver. And since you’re already on the subscription platform that carries both, you might as well. Happy Anniversary is never an unpleasant watch, but it never feels like a particularly worthwhile one, either. Part of that is that there’s a better alternative just a few clicks away, but the movie by itself is only intermittently amusing. When you can’t get invested in the protagonists of a romance, it’s not going to work for you. And Happy Anniversary lacks the intimacy and depth to involve us.
Conclusion: While never unpleasant, Happy Anniversary lacks the depth and intimacy to keep the audience’s interest.
Recommendation: Watch any episode of Love instead. Or all of Love, if you have the time. It’s pretty great.