Relative Happiness takes place in Nova Scotia, Canada. It opens on plus-sized Lexie (Melissa Bergland) failing to fit into the dress that she’s supposed to be wearing to her sister’s wedding. To make matters worse, her mother is bugging her about finding a date for the event. That’s when Adrian (Jonathan Sousa) shows up at the door of the bed & breakfast that Lexie runs. Adrian seems to be everything that Lexie wants in a man, and he seems to be more than happy to return her affections. But this all turns out to be sort of a misunderstanding, and the eventual betrayal leads Lexie and her family down some pretty dark paths.
It’s tough to tell what Relative Happiness is supposed to be, really. It is equal parts broad comedy and melodrama, going from one extreme of the emotional spectrum to the other regularly. This mess of tones comes along with a listless plot built on characters that are a little difficult to care about. The film, like so many modern romantic comedies, tries to pass off bad behavior as cute and quirky. It builds relationships on nothing, and expects the audience to care when things inevitably work out.
Based on where the story eventually goes, it feels like this movie really should have been more of a family drama. It tackles pretty touchy stuff as it delves into the relationships between Lexie and the rest of her family. But the movie seems to insist on being a romantic comedy. This creates a clash of tones from which the movie never really recovers. Lexie’s infatuations don’t really seem all that important. Her family is going through a crisis, and all she can really think about is a guy she’s known for a couple of days.
The problems are most deeply felt in the middle section, where it seems to alternate between dramatic confrontations between Lexie and her family and scenes played for laughs where she’s getting drunk and hitting on every guy that seems available. These are pieces that could fit together, but not the way the movie lays them out. The film could have played up Lexie’s path of self-destruction, her trying to find self-worth in the arms of random men. But the movie seems to think that these scenes are cute, that there isn’t anything more going on behind Lexie’s clumsy attempts to pick up terrible men. And so, nothing really comes of it.
The film gets a little something out of its setting. At the very least, some of the unique landscapes of Nova Scotia make it on to the film. But there isn’t really a whole lot more to say about the filmmaking. The editing is a little too loose for the comedy to work, and the drama is pitched at a level that makes it all seem very hysterical. Melissa Bergland is all right in the lead. She commits to every last bit of it, whether it be slapstick humiliation or melodramatic confrontation. She is a bright spot in a film that doesn’t quite deserve it.
Somewhere in all the mess of Relative Happiness, the film presents a somewhat intriguing point of view. It basically stumps for imperfect unions, making a case for loves beyond the romantic ideal. But the rest of the film just doesn’t match with that theme. The film ignores the heart of the material in order to shape proceedings into the form of a modern mainstream romantic comedy. It was the wrong choice for this film, which seems to have deeper emotional matters at its core.