Caught between humor and drama, the average audience will not put out the effort to stick with this film.
Awarding winning short film director Anne Sewitsky showed her debut film “Happy Happy” at the New York New Directors, New Films festival. It promises great things, if a bit thin for most American audiences.The film is screenwriter Ragnhild Tronvoll’s first feature film as well. He seems well matched with director Sewitsky, but both could have used more experience in the other. The film does a delicate balancing act, combining some soul-searching Bergmanesque relationship surgery with a degree of dry humor Bergman never imagined.
Eirik (Joachim Rafaelsen) and his wife Kaja (Agnes Kittelsen) live a peaceful, boring life in rural Norway. They have a son about ten years of age, Theodor (Oskar Hernæs Brandsø), who has at least the normal level of energy for a ten-year-old boy, but with extra angst.
He is the symptom of something brewing in the family. As the story unfolds, he and his newfound friend Noa (Ram Shihab Ebedy) act out their own microcosm of their parents’ emotional fecklessness. That is the funny part of the film. Well, that and the gospel quartet.
After the two children and the gospel quartet, Kaja brings most of the heart to the story. She only wants happiness and a normal married life but is going to get anything but that. Kittelsen plays Kaja in her second feature length performance and shows much more confidence on screen than the other newcomers.
She won the Amanda Award (Norway) for Best Supporting Actress in her first credited feature length role in “Max Manus” in 2008.
Kaja always looks at the sunny side, which can be challenging in this forbidding, wind-swept wasteland. However, her husband Eirik’s lack of interest in her as a woman is upsetting. Given the fact that she is an extremely sexy knockout of an actress, the men in the audience will be nonplussed.
The answer is obvious, but you will have to go to the film yourself if you cannot figure it out. A hint is that Eirik is forever going hunting and coming back with buckets of elk meat. OK, that is not much of a hint. Do people really walk around in Norway with buckets of elk meat?
The gospel quartet passes in and out of the film singing what sounds like Kingston Trio tunes on the frozen, icy, snow swept tundra. The songs themselves are predictable---it is the performers' mannerisms that are wonderfully absurd. They are singing as if they are in a college gym in North Carolina. The fact is, they are very out of place, just like the four adult neighbors in the movie.
The films starts to heat up when Sigve and Elisabeth (Henrik Rafaelsen and Maibritt Saerens) move in next door with their adopted Ethiopian son Noa. The film credits make Sigve out to be oversexed; however, he is not oversexed. When Kaja, out of desperation, undresses for him, he takes the bait.
But who wouldn’t? The problem with this arrangement is that Sigve and Elisabeth moved to the isolated countryside to start a new life after she had a serious affair. They felt the isolation would do them good, give them some one-on-one time. Luckily for us that does not turn out to be the case.
In the ensuing hi-jinks all four adult characters learn something about themselves and the young boys display the outward signs of growing up to be disaffected drug dealers. The title “Sykt Lykkelig” directly translates to "sickeningly happy" in English. Perhaps this is a cautionary tale about not trying to fool your children and definitely not trying to fool yourself. It is all about honesty, acceptance and not running away from problems.
A sincere film and commendable first effort by the writer and director, “Happy” is rarely hilarious or over the top. A bit of Ingmar Bergman combined with some attempted Woody Allen. Unfortunately, the humor doesn’t translate as well as the film makers would have liked.
As depressing as Bergman is, most prefer his no-nonsense approach to relationship problems. Or Todd Haynes’ approach in “Far From Heaven.” The use of the kids in “Happy” is different, but the humor there is so subtle it does not bear the weight of the whole film. The kids are good actors, for their age…
Although containing a heart-felt message, the film is not powerful enough to be drama nor is it funny enough to be comedy. At least, not in America. We are spoiled. If not destined to be her barnburner this time, Ms. Sewitsky has better movies to come.
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Directed by: Anne Sewitsky
Written by: Ragnhild Tronvoll
Starring: Oskar Hernæs Brandsø, Ram Shihab Ebedy and Agnes Kittelsen
Release Date: New Directors New Films Festival---New York
MPAA: Not Rated
Runtime: 92 minutes