Magnolia Pictures // 2011 // 88 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Rogers (Retired) // February 8th, 2012
"Any reason not to be?"
Happy, Happy is right in my wheelhouse. I'm a huge fan of Swedish cinema.
"They're not Swedish, Mac. They're Norwegian."
Oh yes, Norway! I love Norwegian cinema too!
Kaja (Agnes Kittelsen, Max Manus: Man of War) may be in a sexless relationship with her husband Eirik (Joachim Rafaelsen, Elling), and her job as a school teacher isn't exactly exciting, but Kaja is still overjoyed to meet her new neighbors, Elisabeth (Maibritt Saerens, Take The Trash) and Sigve (Henrik Rafaelsen, Elina: As If I Wasn't There). Elisabeth and Sigve are the perfect couple in Kaja's eyes; everything she wants her and Eirik to be. They're sophisticated and exciting. Elisabeth is a lawyer, they both sing choir, and they're worldly enough to have adopted an African baby.
But underneath their perfect middle class exterior lies the obvious fracture of infidelity and unhappiness. As the two couples are thrust together in an attempt at friendship, Kaja begins to wonder if Sigve holds the key to her happiness or whether life truly is as bleak and flawed as her marriage makes her feel.
Whether it's Erik Skjoldbjærg's darkly cerebral ode to the film noir genre, Insomnia, or André Øvredal's much more recent and much more playful The Troll Hunter...Norway is a country which consistently exports off-beat cinema that combines elements of highbrow artistry and aesthetic with a much more down-to-earth playfulness. I'm sure the duality of Scandinavia's people and its wildly variant landscape helps to flesh out these characteristics. Beauty in isolation and humor in the face of bleak despair.
And I think that Happy, Happy inhabits this sense of parity between poles. It's essentially a drama about married life and that sense that begins to creep in around middle age where you look around and realize that all you touch and all you see is all your life will ever be, as Roger Waters once put it. It's a sobering perspective to realize that your life is in stasis, that you're not really sure if you actually love the person standing next to you, and that you've wasted every single opportunity that's come your way.
And then we meet Kaja, the optimist in a world of shit whose bright smile, sunny disposition, and lethal levels of tweeness makes it impossible to succumb to the cynically bland world around both her and us. It's a quirky little character that we've seen a thousand times before but Agnes Kittelsen's performance is so rich and nuanced that any hint of familiarity is quickly squashed. Her unique beauty lights up the frame at every turn as she tries to balance between bubbly and despondent. It helps that the cinematography is sumptuous in its ability to bring warmth out of the frigid blue collar environment and that director Anne Sewitsky's (Totally True Love) style is both inviting and distancing in its focus of her subjects; it beautifully matches her source material.
When it comes down to it, Happy, Happy is not a film for everyone. On the outside, it seems like boring art house cinema from a foreign land concerning middle class neurosis. It's seemingly a little too cutesy and tries a little too hard to be better than it has any right to be. And maybe all of these things are true, because they certainly are in some part, but I found myself being won over by the themes of the film, the performance by Kittelsen and some of the tweeness. One example being that there's an a cappella quartet that continually ruptures the narrative space of the film to transition us between chapters. It seems contrived and out of place and yet it works as a device to endear the audience to the story and its vision.
Warmth and beauty in the face of real world malaise...It says something about the effectiveness of a film to win over a cynic like me. Though I've seen better (Oh, there's the cynic again).
The 1080p transfer housed on this Blu-ray disc is effective yet not stunning. There's no real clarity or definition in the image outside of exterior shots of the countryside. Black levels are muddled and much of the interior light is too diffuse, though that's more of an artistic choice. All in all though, you can't really ask much more of a film of this ilk. Similarly, the lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master audio track is very serviceable. There's not much play in the back channels besides ambient noises, but the dialogue is crisp and the score bounces with vibrancy in the front channels.
The special features, however, are almost non-existent. Outside of a few trailers for some interesting looking upcoming releases by Magnolia, there isn't a single thing.
Give Happy, Happy a shot if you're looking for something a little off-beat and subdued in the comedy department and with a decently strong emotional core. Just don't expect it to be a masterpiece of its form.
Review content copyright © 2012 Patrick Rogers; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (Norwegian)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Official Site