VOD Review: Welcome to Happiness.
A wonderful and odd comedy about a magical door to happiness, starring Nick Offerman, Keegan-Michael Key and a very talented young cast.
This gem nearly slipped under the radar; we first gave this film our thumbs up way back in May. The premise is weird and charming, and while the trailer touts the comedic talent of Keegan-Michael Key and Nicker Offerman, it is the great performances from a largely unknown young cast that stand out. One part Wes Anderson and one part Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, this comedy is a winner from top to bottom.
Welcome to Happiness (2016)
Woody is an aspiring children’s book author who has landed a pretty sweet gig: he gets a rent-free apartment full of fantastic art if he does a favor for his landlord. The favor? He simply invites strangers into his home, gives them a random questionnaire, and then guides them to a magical door in his closet. Everything is working out fine until he meets one of those strangers for a second time and learns that the door leads to a magic land where you can erase one regret of your choice from your past. With demons of his own, Woody begins to covet the power he has gladly given to others.
Curiouser and Curiouser…
Welcome to Happiness is certainly an odd film. The set designs are whimsical, and vaguely threatening. The cast of characters is eccentric: we have a struggling Dr. Seuss in training, a suicidal artist who only draws cats, an enigmatic landlord, a bombastic curios collector, and a pair of siblings trying to decide what to do with their violently murdered parents’ keep-sakes. The central premise of a magical door to inner peace is a little bit Eternal Sunshine with a touch of Alice in Wonderland thrown in. The pace is breezy and light, underscoring the dark secrets everyone is keeping just under the surface.
Two elements that keep the proceedings on track are the fantastic performances from the unheralded cast and the solid soundtrack. Director Oliver Thompson has chosen eclectically from a wide variety of influences, but his vision shines through as he makes each element feel natural and organic to the piece.
The movie lives or dies on the actions of the cast, and they are excellent. I wasn’t 15 minutes into the piece before I was caught by two thoughts:
- I don’t recognize a single performer so far.
- They are knocking their roles out of the park.
This film asks a lot from its leads. They show a wide gamut of emotions and reactions to very weird situations, and they make it all seem natural. Woody (Kyle Gallner) is earnest, conflicted, resentful and filled with rage, but never feels overblown. Nyles (Bendan Sexton III) who is the cat artist, is suicidal in a shockingly believable way, wracked with inner pain, and strangely unaffected by normal life. Lillian (Molly C. Quinn) who guides the potential converts through happiness, is aloof and flighty, but never feels like a caricature and emotes with real empathy.
The only performances I thought were overblown were from the adults, especially the established comedians. Nick Offerman is a touch bland, though his character ends up being quite good. Keegan-Michael Key is way too energetic at the start and feels affected and out of place, like somebody dropped Robin Williams into a Wes Anderson film. He also has fine moments, but his early scenes are the only out of tone moments.
Sounds like Heaven
Welcome to Happiness also leans heavily on its soundtrack. The selection of music is folksy and modern, and obviously meant to appeal to young audiences. I think the songs themselves add quite a bit to the piece, and are introduced into the film as actually occurring music instead of a proper soundtrack…but they are balanced poorly, volume wise. They scream onto the scene, often making me dive for my remote…but then they hush as the dialogue begins and I found myself diving again for the rewind button in order to hear a key piece of conversation. It’s disconcerting, which is a shame since the music is as central and organic to this film as the soundtrack to films like Garden State and The Big Lebowski.
Find Your Bliss
I’ve been plowing through VOD this year, and often find that the hype never really pays off. Many of the films opting to skip the theater are extremely niche, uneven, or cursed by lack of polish. This film is a diamond in the rough…but it ain’t that rough. I was crossing my fingers after the first half hour, hoping the film wouldn’t betray me with a clunky ending or an over-wrought message. Oliver Thompson lands the plane smoothly, giving a satisfying but incomplete denouement. Everyone finds their place, but the results aren’t pat and smug. People get the small comfort they need to muddle through. Can we ask anything more from life?