Borderline Delusional Optimism in "Happy Happy"

By Matt Prigge
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Sep. 30, 2011

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Grade: C+

Like Poppy, the star of Happy-Go-Lucky, Kaja (Agnes Kittelsen), the closest thing to a protagonist in the similarly-named Happy Happy, is optimistic-bordering-on-delusional. Unlike Poppy, Kaja really should be depressed. A resident of Bumfuck, Norway, this wide-eyed flibbertigibbet is married to her vaguely brutish high school boyfriend Eirik (Joachim Rafaelsen), a probable closet case who hasn’t carried on relations with her for a year because he doesn’t feel she’s taken care of her body. Her young son Theodor (Oskar Hernaes Brandso) is a racist. She wants to be a solo singer in the local church choir but cannot hit the right notes.

Onto this towering pile of abuse the filmmakers add a seemingly perfect, liberal-minded family, who move in next door. Elisabeth (Maibritt Saerens) is a cold, chicly-coiffed lawyer who, with husband Sigve (Henrik Rafaelsen), who looks like and radiates a low-key charm similar to Liam Neeson, has adopted Noa (Ram Shihab Ebedy) a young boy from Ethiopia. It isn’t long before Kaja starts to realize her bum hand, and shorter still before she’s whimsically taking advantage of Sigve’s progressive stance on marriage.

Like most films that depict the joys and psychological benefits of adultery, Happy Happy is ultimately conservative; its lovers engage in extramarital fun only so that order may be restored by the final reel. Sigve emerges a selfish cad whose dalliances with Kaja are a form of marriage counseling, his revenge on Elizabeth for an affair she had had prior to the film’s events. Luckily, director Anne Sewitsky and her writers prove more compassionate than you’d think considering they have Theodor spend the film tricking Noa into “playing slave” with him, with Theodor whipping Noa with his shirt and other jaw-dropping offenses.

The film tracks Kaja’s blossoming sense of self-worth and awareness that perhaps the two men in her house are awful shits. Kittelsen is appropriately bubbly/melancholy as the character with the broadest and most likable arc, and the low-stakes niceness of Happy Happy has naturally ensured that it’s Norway’s contribution for Oscar consideration. And like a lot of films submitted to that committee, it’s vanilla, underoffensive, forgettable and barely deserving of 350 words.

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