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First Look Review - H IS FOR HAPPINESS

h is for happiness review
A 12-year-old girl attempts to mend her broken family.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: John Sheedy

Starring: Richard Roxburgh, Emma Booth, Joel Jackson, Deborah Mailman, Daisy Axon, Wesley Patten, Miriam Margolyes

h is for happiness poster





God it’s hard to be happy, and I say that as an eternal optimist. What even is happiness? Is it a moment of fleeting joy, or a consistent assurance that everything is ok; a sensation of safety and satisfaction? One cannot be happy all the time, but you’re expected to be, and, perhaps, when other fundamental emotions jostle for space in our heart and mind, like the candy coloured embodiments within Riley, we feel nonplussed when happiness is shoved to one side. Which, in turn, causes added anxiety about our state of mind, pushing happiness yet further and further away.

h is for happiness review


Happiness, who’d have it, eh? Who has the energy for it? The peppy Candice (Daisy Axon), 12 year old protagonist of Lisa Hope and John Sheedy’s (writer/director) Australian kid’s comedy H is for Happiness, that’s who. Candice, who, with her vivid titian hair and primary coloured wardrobe, looks like a cartoon character come to life, is also an eternal optimist. This is no mean feat when we consider her traumatic home life: her younger sister died of cot death, leaving Candice’s mother deeply depressed. Candice’s dad has squandered his business, and, in case of GFY insult to injury, he lost it to his brother, who lives a life of such parodic largesse that Scrooge McDuck would probably advise him to reign it in a bit. There is a lot going on at home for this kid.

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Candice is given an acrostic assignment by her teacher to tell the story of her life using the alphabet (eg, ‘A for reviewing an Amiable film’), which is the impetus for this pleasant coming of age tale. Taking time out from her bawdy appearances on chat shows, Candice’s teacher is hammed up by Miriam Margolyes (I actually like her a lot, funny old bird she is), which should give a hint about the ramshackle comic tone which H is for Happiness aspires to.

h is for happiness review


Candice is a likeable little know-all, and her upbeat naivety and blunt nature is so conspicuous that adults naturally assume she is on the spectrum. In an earlier, funny moment a kid, trying to make friends, whispers to her conspiratorially, "Can you keep a secret?", to which Candice blithely replies "No!": the kid recovers with, "Well, do you want to know my secret anyway?", to which Candice cheerfully repeats the negation. The film, however, implies that Candice’s jocundity is a coping mechanism, a way of dealing with the misery of her domestic situation. Her parents duly seem to be visiting from completely different films: when Candice asks about the circumstances of her birth, her mother deadpan explains that Candice was born in "pain, blood and tears" - yikes!

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The incongruity of Candice’s situation leads to a tonal bumpiness in H is for Happiness’s picaresque. As Candice gets up to the usual sort of benign kiddy shenanigans - exploring a forest, making friends with a horse - with her equally unique pal Douglas Benson from Another Dimension (Wesley Patten), another disturbed child whose own coping mechanism involves elaborate fantasies surrounding the multiverse, the film necessarily dips back into the melancholy of the kids’ parents every so often, and, with recount of cot death and suchlike, the effect is quite jarring. At one point, a child leaps from a high tree in the conquered forest, possibly to their death: I’m still unsure if we are supposed to find the suicidal pratfall comical or not. And, overall, the impetus for the film, ostensibly Candice attempting to resolve her familial strife, is not quite enough to sustain narrative energy.

h is for happiness review


The episodic, sketch-like mien of the film often makes H is for Happiness feel quite tea-time televisual, a binge of amusing incidents which are held together by a quite superb performance from Axon, who is on screen for nearly every minute of the film’s running time, building towards an admittedly irresistible feelgood ending. H is for Harmless enough.

H is for Happiness is on US/CAN VOD from September 18th. A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.




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