An easygoing housewife (Agnes Kittelsen) maintains unyielding optimism in spite of desperate loneliness and a husband who refuses to have sex with her. When new neighbours arrive, she is drawn to their sophisitcation and her enthuisiasm to spend time with them spills into an elicit affair with the husband. In the dead of winter in the middle of nowhere, this dark comedy explores the malleability and resilience of adult relationships.
SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL: A bold, bawdy, brazen spin on the well-trodden 'battle-of-the-sexes’ bedroom farce, Anne Sewitsky’s Happy, Happy is an early frontrunner for audience favourite honours at the 2011 Sydney Film Festival. Watching mixed-up people acting this badly towards one another should not feel this good, but this charming Norwegian dramedy is warm and familiar but caustic and challenging in its depiction of snowbound, 40-something adultery.
The film focuses on two couples, each with a pre-teen son, whose lives intersect when they take up residence within a snowball’s throw of each other. Kaja (Agnes Kittelsen) clings buoyantly to notions of romantic marital fulfilment, despite having a husband, Eirik (Joachim Rafaelsen), who is clearly struggling with his own sexual orientation, and a son, Theo (Oskar HernÁ¦s Brandsø), who...well, frankly, is a little prick. Their new neighbours are the strapping and handsome Sigve (Henrik Rafaelsen) and strikingly beautiful Elisabeth (Maibritt Saerens) who, with their adopted mute African boy Noa (Ram Shihab Ebedy), seek a new life in the snowy countryside after Elisabeth’s indiscretions nearly ended their union back in the 'burbs.
Complications develop over home-cooked meals and darkly comic parlour games: Kaja advances upon Sigve; Eirik positions himself to do the same; Theo educates Noa in the history and practicalities of slavery; and Elisabeth, slowly but assuredly becoming aware of the shenanigans that are going on, plots revenge on Kaja... by trying to bed the closeted Eirik. All the while, a boy-band Greek chorus interjects with traditional southern US hymns that emphasise both the deeply human nature of these character’s struggles and the utter absurdity with which they go about dealing with them.
It all makes for a giddying mix that debutante director Sewitsky unfolds with a firm control over the more ridiculous elements of the plotting. Her cast, especially the adorably nutty Kittelsen in the pivotal role of Kaja, are fearless and funny; sex scenes are frank, both in their depiction and dissection, but so crucial are the couplings to the film’s dark but delirious joie de vivre, full-frontal male nudity and oral indulgences seem entirely, even welcomingly, justified.
The ending is a bit pat, but one can’t begrudge a degree of hopeful sentimentality being introduced into the lives of these shallow, sad, stupid people. Perhaps best described as 'a Nordic take on Neil Simon, adapted in the spirit of Lars Von Trier’s Dogma manifesto’, Happy Happy is an achingly awkward, surprisingly moving and very funny skewering of modern society’s tendency towards self-fulfilment over shared experience.