DIR/WRI: Stephen Burke • PRO: Lesley McKimm, Alex Ward • DOP: Jonathan Kovel • ED: Guido Krajewski • CAST: Sally Hawkins, Tom Riley, Sinead Maguire, Jade Yourell, Ariyon Bakare
Recipe for a Screwball Comedy:
Take one anti-heroic male who is under the thumb of a dominating fiancée.
Submit him to ritualistic humiliation in a series of zany events.
Allow the male to become involved in a woman-dominated courtship, during which, as the two are drawn to each other, they do not simply surrender to their feelings, they literally battle it out – usually to the physical detriment of the man.
Liberally sprinkle with eccentric characters.
Place all ingredients in the oven and wait as the free-spirited female liberates the victimized feckless male.
After an hour and a half, take out from the oven and let stand.
Garnish with the triumph of love.
Happy Ever Afters takes that 30’s Hollywood screwball formula and gives it a modern-day, Irish context. The ‘Afters’ of the title refers to a double-booked wedding reception at a hotel. One wedding involves our anti-hero Freddie (Tom Riley), marrying his divorced wife again in an effort to make it work. The other involves our free spirit Maura (Sally Hawkins), who is marrying for money. Through a series of madcap events the two find what they are really looking for in each other.
Written and directed by Stephen Burke, Happy Ever Afters proves itself to be quite an enjoyable attempt to bring to the screen the comic (and tragic) potential that exists at most wedding receptions. Indeed, many are ‘traumedies’ waiting to happen. Burke knows his screwball and he packs in a decent amount of visual and verbal gags to maintain a good pace. Riley and Hawkins play out the dysfunctional comic courtship well and are helped along by the oddball collection of friends and family. The voice of reason throughout all the mayhem is Maura’s 8-year-old daughter, Molly (Sinead Maguire), who ends up saving the day. Maguire puts in her own terrific comic performance amidst all the irrationality and surely has a great future in front of her.
Taken at face value, Happy Ever Afters has a lot going for it, not least the two lead performances. Screwball comedies often lack any real substance as the focus is laid on quickly developed and contrived situations and quirky one-dimensional personalities to the detriment of characterization and plot. Happy Ever Afters is no exception. A major flaw with the film is the woeful underwriting of Maura’s situation with husband-to-be Wilson (Ariyon Bakare), who has promised Maura €9,000 to marry him so that he can avoid being deported. Wilson’s girlfriend Emily (Phina Oruche) is at the wedding and it’s a shame Burke didn’t develop this particular triangle. Certain scenes could easily have been ditched and Oruche’s character should have been developed into a more central character, which would have offered the narrative much more comic scope.
Still, Burke has followed the screwball recipe well and promises to be a decent chef in the future.