Prolific gay filmmaker Rob Williams has made nine films since his 2006 debut Long-Term Relationship. It’s a eclectic mix of comedies that combine broad humour with honest, sentimental themes. But all of them are enjoyable for what they are. This basically describes Happiness Adjacent as well. Impressively shot on an iPhone almost entirely on board a cruise ship, this is a romantic-comedy with an edgy premise that provokes thought.
It’s the story of gay Los Angeles filmmaker Hank (Adam Fried), who take a cruise to Mexico alone after his friend cancels at the last minute. So he’s naturally feeling a bit lonely, on the lookout for other friends of Dorothy as he prowls around the ship. Then he has a spark of interest with Kurt (Ian Dick), who is on vacation from Indiana with his seasick wife Kate (Rachel Alig). While she remains ill in their cabin, Kurt and Hank get to know each other. And just as Hank is beginning to suspect that Kurt isn’t as straight as he claims to be, Kurt moves in for a kiss. Soon these two are having a full-on holiday fling, sneaking around the ship and taking day trips to romantic Mexican beaches. The question is what Kurt wants out of this: does he just see Hank as a shipboard fling?
This question hovers over the second half of the film, as Kate enters the fray and begins to suspect what’s happening here. But she’s not going down without a fight. None of this is terribly sophisticated, but the characters and situations are engaging, the scenery beautiful and the issues are deeper than writer-director Williams seems to realise. This gives the entire movie an involving darker edge.
Meanwhile on the surface, it’s all sunshine and smiles. The story is narrated by Hank as he talks to himself incessantly (he knows this is a problem). Fried gives an offhanded, charming performance that’s likeable and sometimes brittle when it needs to be. His chemistry with Dick is very strong, and Dick plays Kurt as a nice Midwestern guy who is simply unable to let go and live an honest gay life. Their conversations are warm and realistic, especially as they discuss their pasts. Hank is still hurting from a bad breakup, while Kurt has told his wife about his gay past. This adds some spiky energy to Alig’s role as the perky Kate.
Much of Happiness Adjacent seems to have been shot on the cruise liner when it was completely empty. There are very few scenes in which any crew members or fellow passengers can be seen in the background, which makes it feel like some kind of ghost ship. This adds to the sense of loneliness both of these men are feeling, highlighting deeper themes about gay men who feel forced to live straight lives. And the title adds another point of resonance, tapping into that feeling that things are OK, but definitely could be better.
Read our interview with Director Rob Williams
All pictures reproduced courtesy of Rob Williams