WELCOME TO HAPPINESS
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, Shockya
Director: Oliver Thompson
Written by: Oliver Thompson
Cast: Kyle Gallner, Olivia Thirlby, Nick Offerman, Keegan-Michael Key, Brendan Sexton III, Josh Brener, Molly C. Quinn, Paget Brewster, Frances Conroy, Bess Rous, A.J. Trauth, Robert Pike Daniels
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/9/16
Opens: May 20, 2016
I’d like a dollar for everyone in the country who believes that happiness is life’s principal desideratum. While people may have different ideas about what happiness means, Wikipedia says that it is a mental or emotional state of well-being defined by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy.
The question now is: while you watch Oliver Thompson’s freshman offering as a writer and director, will you feel pleasant emotions? Contentment? Intense joy would seem to be beyond the pale for this or just about any other movie, but after you sit, hopefully content in your theater seat, you may want to leave the auditorium discussing just what it is about the characters in the film that changed their attitudes from bleak despair, through contentment, into intense joy. Their transformation seems abrupt and not wholly convincing, but this feel-good movie has an exceptional, mostly young cast, some of whom may agree with psychologists who say that people in their twenties are overall the most troubled in our country.
Among those having identity problems in “Welcome to Happiness” is Nyles (Brendan Sexton III), whom we meet during a visibly emotional thought of suicide. We watch him putting a revolver into his ear, then his mouth, all the while shaking with doubt that this is the best solution. Squeezing the trigger would be a shame, since the hirsute gent is an artist who can on demand knock out a picture of a cat in minutes, just like the people in New York during the warm weather who will draw your caricature in two minutes. Woody (Kyle Gallner) anchors the movie, however, as a troubled fellow who wants only to bring back his parents, who died in an automobile accident some years back. Lucky for him, he has a door in his fabulous apartment which can take deeply troubled people who enter into the realm and have them forget the sources of their misery, but somehow he resists checking it out.
Wacky characters abound including an elderly couple, Clairborne (Frances Conroy) and Osmond (Robert Pike Daniel), who meet Woody in a desert tent, informing him that if he presses a red button he will lose not only the memory of his parents but everything he had successfully striven for, particularly the children’s books that he writes.
Then there’s Proctor (Keegan-Michael Key), the happiest man in the story, who collects baseball cards and is prepared to pay Ripley (Josh Brener), who will turn the money over to their owner. And Lillian (Molly C. Quinn), is perhaps the most mysterious woman in the movie, transporting the unhappy Woody into the desert to meet with the couple in the tent who will mentor him.
Not all the people are easy to take, particularly a painfully shy woman, Leah (Bess Rous), who visits Woody for no discernible reason, and sometimes Trudy (Olivia Thirlby), can be obstinate and literal-minded, as when she walks out on Woody rather than encouraging her friend to go through the door.
As with many feel-good comedy-dramas, “Welcome to Happiness” has quite a few dark moments, but then, Oliver Thompson shows himself to be the guy to watch for future fantasies of the Wes Anderson type.
Unrated. 108 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B-
Technical – B+
Overall – B