Happy Anniversary is a Netflix Original movie from writer/director Jared Stern. The film follows Sam (Ben Schwartz) and Mollie (Nöel Wells) as they reach their three-year anniversary. What should be a romantic milestone actually sees the couple decide whether they should actually stay together or just call it a day.
In theory, Happy Anniversary is a romantic comedy that should tick a lot of my boxes. It’s quirky, it’s self-aware, and it contains more than its fair share of pop-culture references. The only problem is that it left me feeling rather cold, despite it seemingly being inspired by a lot of films that I really enjoyed, like What If, The Big Sick, 500 Days of Summer and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. I think what I’m really confessing to here is that I like off-beat, hipster romcoms.
I think what makes the other films I listed work for me is that I could get onboard with the leads. The thing with Happy Anniversary is that I just couldn’t buy into the relationship between Sam and Mollie. They had some moments of nice chemistry but I never really bought into the fact that they were a real couple and genuinely loved each other. Don’t get me wrong, I think that Ben Schwartz and Nöel Wells are fine in their own right, and the two of them even have a decent buzz of natural chemistry, but their characters just don’t feel three dimensional.
Happy Anniversary feels like a film that wants you to know just how smart and self-aware it is with lots of quick dialogue and pop-culture references. Now, this is something that I’m normally an absolute sucker for, but it just didn’t really land for me this time around. I genuinely don’t think this is a fault of the actors as I like them individually. I think that maybe the film was trying too hard to appear cool, that it felt like a forced trope more than anything else.
The story itself is something that you could piece together if you’ve seen pretty much any romantic comedy. That in itself isn’t a bad thing; after all, if you stop and think, most romcoms will boil down to a tried and tested formula. There’s a couple and they seem to connect brilliantly, then something comes up that tells them that they really don’t belong together, but it’s ok because by the final act everyone will realize just how right they are for each other and it’s off into the sunset for a life of happiness. You could probably fit most romcoms into that model, but I think it is still possible to follow that template and still have something that feels fresh and different.
The film is told with flashbacks at various points throughout the story to show us how Sam and Mollie met and some of the highs and lows of their relationship so far. As an idea, it’s not a terrible one, but the execution didn’t really work for me – instead, things just seemed to jump about all over the place. Where it could have been used to do something really interesting it just felt like the film pinballed around from moment to moment.
From the first scene the film seems to scream “I’m quirky”, but I don’t think that is something that you can force. I think behind the hipster, trendy veneer there could have been quite a nice film in here. The leads are good, the support is (mostly) decent, and the central premise is interesting, but what we end up with feels like less than the sum of its parts.
Happy Anniversary is entertaining enough and there are a few lines that certainly raised a smile, but I can’t remember anything that really made me laugh. It’s by no means a bad film, but it just feels like so much that I’ve seen in the past few years, to the point of feeling a little cynical. It’s not terrible, it’s not great, it’s just ok, but it had the potential to be more.
Oli has been writing for Ready Steady Cut since November 2017. He has a PhD in Computer Science and he writes articles about TV, film and, very occasionally, science.