Synopsis: In this sexy, French romantic drama, two couples decide to explore the boundaries of their relationships by swapping partners. What starts as a fun, free-spirited ménage-a-4 experimentation full of sleepovers, shared vacations, and dinner parties soon turns into a hotbed of desire, anger, and confusion. As their arrangement leads them down an increasingly surprising and provocative path, the lovers begin to question their personal choices and lifestyles, leading to consequences none of them could foresee.
Happy Few 8.0
eyelights: its frank exploration of the complexities of polyamory. its sexy bits.
eyesores: its relative predictability.
“We were all going to be haunted by a simple question: Can you love two people at the same time? And especially, can you let it happen?”
‘Happy Few’ is a 2010 French drama about the polyamourous interminglings of two couples, and the changes that the quartet goes through over time. In North America, it was released as ‘Four Lovers’ – a fortuitous decision as it drew my attention while I was perusing a liquidation sale at a local video store. I’m pretty sure that ‘Happy Few’ would not have intrigued me at all.
I sure would have missed out.
‘Happy Few’ is one of those rare films that explores alternative lifestyles without dialing up the melodrama, being judgemental, or serving up dire consequences. In fact, it was refreshing precisely because it was relatively objective in showing us the advantages and disadvantages of such relationships; at no point did I feel that it was firmly rooted in either camp.
Although I’m hardwired a monogamous heterosexual male, I have no moral objection to other options for other people so long as all parties are involved of their own free will, are mature enough to make such decisions for themselves and the arrangements are healthy in some fashion. And thus I’m always very pleased to find sex-positive views in any of the movies I watch.
‘Happy Few’ is a linear film that begins by introducing us to Rachel, a pretty blonde jewelry designer. One late afternoon, at the tail end of her shift, Vincent, a web designer hired by the company, arrives to discuss ideas for their new website. She and he hit it off. Not long after, she and her husband, Franck, invite Vincent and his spouse, Teri, for a dinner with friends.
As luck would have it, their friends cancel their dinner engagement at the last minute, leaving the two couples alone to get to know each other: When Teri was young, she was a gymnast. She made it to the Olympics, but didn’t do well at all – after which she quit. Franck is a massage therapist and writer who practices shiatsu and is extremely good with his hands.
Left alone by Rachel and Vincent, while Franck tries to help Teri with an old injury, a fire ignites between them and they kiss. When the others return, Franck immediately confesses to Vincent – discretely, leaving a note in a book he was asked to sign by the latter. Vincent makes no bones of it, and neither does Rachel when Franck comes clean to her later. Nothing more is said about it.
But the couple go out together again, and they really hit it off. Not only do they hit it off, but the sexual attraction grows and they decide to swap partners at the end of the night. This would be the beginning of a long love affair between the two couples, as they continue to see each other and allow their spouses to spend some alone time together in each other’s homes.
Their only rules: If any of them is unavailable, then none of them can partner up. They also don’t share with their respective spouses the details of the time they spend with their lover, whether it’s sexual or not. I loved that, after the first time apart, Rachel and Franck checked in with each other – not just to ensure that they are both okay, but also to reconfirm their love and attraction for each other.
Basically, they were trying to be mindful of each other’s feelings. They knew the risks of including new partners in their relationships and tried to make the transition as smooth as possible. But, beyond those rules, they started hanging out with each other as lovers, close friends and family, blurring the lines of where the relationships started and ended.
To me, the only problem is that both couples have children. I felt that they could have been a bit more discrete and protective than they were: for instance, the couples were mostly seen driving around with their lovers instead of their partners, which must have been slightly confusing for the kids. Surely they also drove with partners, but this is hardly ever seen. What did the kids think or feel?
There was also this one scene where they organized an outing to the cottage without the kids, leaving all three together with a babysitter. Firstly, there’s this notion that the children were now being treated as siblings even if they’re from different couples and live separately, but then there’s the inevitable feelings of rejection, as they watch their parents ditch them, eager to be alone.
I’m not saying that any of this is bad. I’m really not judging. But I was concerned for the kids, who sometimes looked like they didn’t know what to make of it. And how could they? They are children after all, who expect their parents to be there for them, to guide them through life. But the parents were too busy blurring the lines of their relationships to provide the necessary support.
In my mind, it would be an altogether different thing if neither couple had any children, because there couldn’t be any collateral damage of their couplings (there’s one moment, for instance, when one of the daughters finds and reads another parent’s diary). I just think one has to be responsible for the people around us, as well as one’s self. But I’m not sure that the kids were considered here.
I mean, if it became confusing for the parents, imagine how it must have been for their kids. How could they understand what even the adults themselves couldn’t fully comprehend?
Tensions inevitably arose, but there was no animosity or melodrama. Most of what takes place was due to growing insecurity or uncertainty of one’s place within the original relationship. Eventually, minor rules are put in place to make some of them feel more comfortable, or the parties discuss issues individually, until things come to a head and there is the inevitable break-up.
I really loved that the break-up was handled like any other break-up: the moment one person wants out, inevitably the relationship ends – the others don’t continue. And there’s the tearing and heartbreak of suddenly having that big gap in one’s life. I liked that this was shown, although I wish that the film had spent a lot more time on that aspect, as it’s only touched upon briefly.
Unsurprisingly, the element that ‘Happy Few’ focuses on the most, aside from the character dynamics, is the sexuality. While it’s not overabundant, there is a lot of nudity and sexuality on screen. Some of it was actually really hot – not in that glossy Hollywood fashion, but in much more realistic way. And it wasn’t particularly explicit either: it arouses by creating moods.
I really enjoyed ‘Happy Few’. It showed a credible polyamory scenario that grew organically – it wasn’t contrived like the one ‘Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice‘, which was mostly about questioning and purposely pushing boundaries. Here, it was about acknowledging attraction and desire and allowing it to bloom in a safe, loving and supportive context. It didn’t feel vulgar.
I can’t say that I could ever find myself in such a scenario; I’m far too hard-wired for that, what with my attachment needs. However, I have no concern about this type of scenario and arrangement so long as it’s done in a careful, considerate, healthy way. It was nice seeing it portrayed in this way; it might be hard for some to wrap their minds around it, but it’s near-impossible to judge here.
And that’s a good thing.
Date of viewing: May 30, 2014