By Brian Lafferty
September 30, 2011 (San Diego) – There is an old proverb that goes, “Honesty is the best policy.” As a theme it serves Happy, Happy well. It’s refreshing to see a film so honest with everything, including its characters, their relationships with each other, and the situations they encounter. Most importantly, it’s honest with itself.
A Norwegian import from first-time feature film director Anne Sewitsky, it stars Agnes Kittelsen as Kaja, a young woman unhappily married to Eirik (Joachim Rafaelsen). A seemingly happily married couple, Sigve and Elisabeth (Henrik Rafaelsen and Maibritt Saerens), move into the neighborhood. When Kaja and Sigve engage in an affair, it throws the two couples’ relationships into turmoil.
The film falls under the comedy-drama label. Sometimes it offers major laughs, such as when the couples play pictionary. Nobody correctly guesses what Eirik draws. When he reveals it’s AIDS, it inspires laughter. When everyone else reacts, the floodgates open a little wider. When Eirik goes into detail on the components of the picture, the laughter levee breaks.
The dialogue has a sharp, piercing ring to it. It’s the kind of dialogue that people want to say but can’t because the words are dammed by a mental filter. Not a lot of screenwriters have the guts to craft such frank discourse but writers Ragnhild Tronvoll and Mette M. Bølstad are unafraid to have their characters speak their mind.
The laughs decrease once the second half begins. The movie makes an organic shift in tone. It becomes a deep, penetrating character study that puts the couples and their relationships under a microscope. It’s as probing as a full body scanner. The character’s reexaminations of their lives, their marriages, and their actions are conducted with brutal honesty.
Unfortunately, I’m making the film out to be a huge cheat. Think of it like a comedy that you laugh at until three-quarters in, when everything briefly turns serious. It’s just like that in Happy, Happy except that the seriousness is at maximum drama.
Visually, the wall-to-wall gray exteriors replete with loads of snow, and the somewhat colorful, but routine interiors, don’t give much to see. But they are unobtrusive enough to let us focus on the openness and the honesty of the characters and to feel involved in the drama.
Happy, Happy is now playing at the Landmark Ken Cinema.
A Magnolia Pictures release. Director: Anne Sewitsky. Screenplay: Ragnhild Tronvoll (screenplay) and Mette M. Bølstad (dramaturge). Original Music: Stein Berge Svendsen. Cinematography: Anna Myking. Cast: Agnes Kittelsen, Henrik Rafaelsen, Joachim Rafaelsen, and Maibritt Saerens. 85 minutes. In Norwegian, with English subtitles. Rated R.