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H IS FOR HAPPINESS gets 6.5/10 Happy families?


Directed by John Sheedy

Starring Daisy Axon, Wesley Patten, Richard Roxburgh, Miriam Margolyes, Emma Booth

6.5/10

Twelve-year-old Candice Phee (Daisy Axon) certainly has a vibrant and earnest take on life, that’s not always appreciated by her classmates, but a new assignment, and a new friend (Wesley Patten) apparently from another dimension, give Candice a chance to repair her broken family (Richard Roxburgh, Emma Booth).

Based on Barry Jonsberg’s My Life As An Alphabet, and using Albany as the backdrop, H is for Happiness succeeds in creating a whimsical world that often borders on the fantastical. The setting is beautifully realised with a vibrant use of colour, lending life to the vision of Candice Phee. Yet beneath this vibrant world, there is also one of despair and turmoil, as we slowly learn of the troubles that the Phee family find itself in. This lends a sense, that the magical world of childhood, is being infringed on by the troubling realities of adulthood. That Candice’s strange enthusiasm and optimism are childish things that are either going to have to give way to harsh realities, or are themselves part of her denial to keep her safe.

That dark undertone does a lot for the film. Too easily H is for Happiness could slip beneath its brightly coloured candy-coated exterior, and give us a saccharine coming of age story. Instead, it cultivates that edge, that there’s more happening than Candice realises and is willing to admit to herself. She sees a problem and attempts to find a solution, but falling back on film and TV for inspiration, seeks a grand gesture and theatrical flourish. This creates a strange dichotomy in the piece, where wacky schemes grind against real-world problems and the long term work that’s actually required.

At the end of the day, that can be an issue with H is for Happiness – the slightly surreal childish world on screen, and the lack of success of those theatrical solutions lend a lack of agency to the central character. Candice is a somewhat unreliable narrator, so her account of events often skirts around the edges, and the audience is rarely given insight into their resolution. As such the plot can feel a little aimless at times, and lacking in the causes for that resolution. This is certainly not aided by director John Sheedy’s clipped pacing and plot overstuffed with whimsical instances, as it makes the film feel a little disjointed.

An incredibly visual debut feature, that makes a distinctive calling card for director John Sheedy, H is for Happiness is filled with interest and wonder. A beautiful and entertaining coming of age story, but one that doesn’t quite land the message.

DAVID O’CONNELL

H is for Happiness plays at UWA Somerville from Monday, December 30 – Sunday, January 5, 8pm

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