Norway’s entry for consideration in the Academy Award’s Best Foreign Film category, this ironically titled offbeat dramedy explores the clash between two young families whose smiling facades are rapidly crumbling to reveal the undermining disparate isolation lying underneath.
Following a promiscuous affair, big city couple Sigve (Henrik Rafaelsen) and Elisabeth (Maibritt Saerens), along with their adopted son of African descent Noa (Ram Shihab Ebedy) relocate to the snowy sticks of Norway to rekindle their failing marriage. Eagerly awaiting their arrival is the excessively chipper neighbour Kaja (should-be starlet Agnes Kittelsen), her recalcitrant husband Eirik (Joachim Rafaelsen) and their strange lonesome son Theodor (Oskar Hernæs Brandsø). After sharing affectations, a hearty home cooked meal and one too many glasses of wine, it’s no surprise that two most outgoing members of the couples – the sexually frustrated teacher and the henpecked husband – fall into bed together. Leading these double lives instead of confronting the lies laying within their own marital relationships, first-time director Anne Sewitsky and writer Ragnhild Tronvoll consider whether all concerned can learn to live peacefully with this new arrangement, or whether they prefer to return to their previous state of misery.
Clocking in at eighty five minutes, this is a tautly formed tale, with every one of scriptwriter Ragnhild Tronvoll’s scenes used for overarching thematic effect. Usually, this would be considered a blessing with the familiar rom-com storyline (think of the Winslet/Diaz 2006 effort The Holiday), but the lack of frivolous dialogue means that the humour in Happy, Happy is subdued, laying deep underneath the grief and antithetical unhappiness streaming through each character. The universally good performances and naturalistic directing are counterbalanced by the screenplay’s exactitude. No family falls apart this neatly, especially no pair of them, but what we see is still powerful and at times difficult to watch in the best possible way.
The four-way relationship between the adults in Happy, Happy is expertly crafted, but a disconcerting subplot between the respective children makes the dangerously border into the fortuitously uncomfortable. Theodor begins bullying the other due to his lack of connection with his own parents and a need to find a way to take control of his own life. This takes the form of a game he invents: pretending Noa is a slave and he’s his master. Without his own parental guidance to turn to or any positive black role models available, Noa assents and their “games” grow increasingly dark as the film continues. This, along with an annoying barbershop quartet overzealously narrating the film’s plot points, stops Happy, Happy from being a truly great and refreshing take on the familiar, problematic relationship adage.
Happy, Happy is available on DVD and online from right…(hold on)…NOW! Go watch these beautiful people bump uglies.
Isolated Nordic landscapes, relationships in disrepair, lustrous affairs and tumultuous weather conditions, although it is completely different in tone and genre, Happy, Happy shares a lot of similarities with the Berlinale premiered film Gnade (meaning ‘Mercy). A fantastically stark film about the extremities people are willing to go to to keep up social appearances. See it.