I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one who guessed that a European movie called Happy Happy wasn’t going to be as jolly as the title suggests. However Anne Sewitsky’s Norwegian movie won prizes at Sundance and was its country’s official entry for last year’s Academy Awards, so it’s certainly got some pedigree.
Kaja and Eirik are a couple who live in the countryside and have been together for years. While they put up a front of happiness and Kaja seems to have accepted her lot, their world is shaken up when a cosmopolitan new couple move in next door, along with their African adopted son, Noa. Kaja looks at them and see what appears to be the perfect marriage, which is far from what she has to deal with. However at a dinner party she discovers that things between Elisabeth and Sigve are actually strained, but she still wants what they have and ends up having a sexual encounter with Sigve.
One impulsive act leads to an affair, which starts to unravel the problems in both marriages, not least of which is that while Eirik claims he’s stopped sleeping with his wife because she no longer makes an effort, he’s actually hiding a secret. This aspect is interesting, although I’d imagine many BGPS readers will wish the film went into Eirik’s motivations for why he’s living the life he is more than it does (I’ll let you guess why)
The film is all about uncovering the lies behind the façade and that no matter how good things look from the outside there are always problems, often unspoken, and which some people hide better than others. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the sort of look behind the curtain of middle class life offered by the likes of American Beauty, and while it’s not as good as that movie, there’s a similar sense of the pretences and justifications people starting to collapse around them.
Although it gets a bit strained by the end, Happy Happy is a largely successful movie and there are some very effective moments, such as the casual, passive aggressive cruelty that can erupt when people don’t want to deal with the real issues or look at their own culpability. However perhaps most powerful and yet also subtly dealt with is the effect the strains and problems of their parents has on the children, with Kaja and Eirik’s child Theo fast learning the power play of his parents and becoming rather mean.
To be honest, there’s little here that hasn’t be explored in many other films, but it’s done well as it gradually unveils the truth of the two relationships. Agnes Kittelsen is also very good as the eternally optimistic Kaja, who has to learn that perfection is unattainable and that sometimes there are secrets that can’t just be ignored.
Overall Verdict: A smart relationship drama uncovering the truth behind the façade of apparent domestic bliss and the way secrets have a way of causing unexpected consequences. It’s been done better before, but Happy Happy is still a worthwhile watch.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac