By: Jonathan Weir
H is for Happiness has to be one of the most enjoyable family films to come out of Australia since Babe. Based on the book My Life as an Alphabet by Barry Jonsberg, and directed by feature film debutant John Sheedy,
H is for Happiness is a whimsical portrayal of one girl’s pursuit of restoring happiness to her broken family. Stylistically vibrant and fantastical, the film is heart-wrenching, hope-inspiring and hilarious. This is one Australian film you do not want to miss.
The story follows thirteen-year-old Candice Phee, played by endearing young actress Daisy Axon (Judy and Punch). Candice’s family experienced an unthinkable tragedy three years prior when Candice’s infant sister passed away in her sleep (SIDS) and the family never recovered. Candice’s mother, played by Emma Booth (Glitch, Underbelly) has remained incapacitated ever since, and her father, Richard Roxburgh (Moulin Rouge, Rake), rarely leaves his office.
Interactions between Candice and her parents are cold and detached. The one person in the world she has to turn to is her father’s brother, appropriately titled ‘Rich Uncle Brian’ and played by Joel Jackson (Jungle, Safe Harbour). This creates further strain on the family, as we learn of the business break between Brian and her father, and the court case that left Brian with everything and her father with nothing.
It is clear Candice is far from oblivious to everything going on as she humorously states she “would have to be living in a lead-lined coffin not to realise everyone is miserable”. So Candice sets forth on her mission to bring back her family’s happiness.
Candice is helped along the way by some wonderfully wacky characters, most notable is the friendship she strikes up with new student and fellow oddball Douglas Benson, played by Wesley Patten. Douglas adamantly claims to be from another dimension. The two children strike a heartwarming friendship, encouraging one another in their aspirations. Other memorable characters include Douglas’s mother (Deborah Mailman), the wonky-eyed school teacher (Miriam Margolyes) and costume shop clown (George Shevtsov).
The sincere selflessness of Candice’s efforts is what makes this film so captivating. Very rarely does Candice ever stop to think of herself, she is purely empathetic. Candice can’t help but see the bright side in those around her. This is best demonstrated in a scene in which she commends the school bully on her gift of eye-rolling.
As a film, H is for Happiness may not be a polished blockbuster, but what it lacks in shine, it makes up for in heart. Its difficult themes are helped along by its fun whimsical tone, but careful not to gloss over them in the process. The agonising grief is felt fully, but in a way that inspires hope, and honour is given to the complexities of growing up in a broken home. There is a moment in the film where another trauma-affected teenager is introduced, but with contrasting behavioural ramifications, identifying the importance to avoid generalisations.
The film would be best suited for an audience of adolescents and families. It has a rating of PG for mild themes and coarse language, and makes a couple of humorous references to burgeoning puberty. In the most part, however, it is overwhelmingly wholesome. As the film depicts parents losing a child it may be triggering for some audiences.
The film provides an interesting portrayal of the human condition and explores a number of important themes – particularly around family relationships. It reminds parents that their children are far from passive passengers to the decisions they make and are more aware of what is happening around them than we give them credit for.
The willingness of parents to be present with their children and take them seriously as people can have profoundly positive effects on their development and wellbeing. At the same time, the film acknowledges the complexity and fragility of families, reminding audiences that they can never fully understand the depth of what others are going through. Caring for others requires attention and sensitivity.
Most importantly the film highlights the crucial importance of happiness in life. It demonstrates how happiness does not need to be luck of the draw, but can be found in relationships, quality time, and for Christians, the joy of knowing a loving God.
Article supplied with thanks to ACCTV.
About the Author: Jonathan is a passionate storyteller, content producer and performer, based on the Sunshine Coast.