Stories of family dynamics and relationships will always feature heavily in narratives. Characters haunted by their pasts are also a familiar plot and both are features in short Family Happiness.
Romily (Whishaw), leads an innocent yet isolated existence. He calls his sister Fiona (Englert), who arrives, despite protest from her unseen partner. Whereas Romily lives alone, Fiona is married to an older, possessive partner, who soon calls her wanting to know her whereabouts. The siblings talk over their past and current lives, while an awkwardness lingers between the sensitive brother and complicated sister.
Alice Englert, who is more known for her on screen roles in films such as Ginger and Rosa and Beautiful Creatures, writes and directs here. Her short does not have the strongest of narratives arcs but this is much more a simple observation piece. We see the two siblings relive their past, while trying to connect their present. While Romily tries to connect with those around him, Fiona is purposely cruel to others. Seen in her unprovoked treatment of a Jehovah Witness and her recounts of shopping in high end shops.
In terms of the dialogue, despite a good screenplay, what is not said is more powerful than what is with its leads. The edging around questions, the false answers to questions and the awkward silences. This is due to its to performers and their joint chemistry. They each offer multiple sides to their characters, despite a fifteen-minute running time: Englert makes her cold character feel vulnerable and Whishaw gives more depth to his straight forward older brother.
Despite the absence of a full arc, the film is a simple interaction of a complicated relationship. The actors lift this above its story with their intensity and make for intriguing viewing.