There are four main characters in Happy, Happy because it is about two couples; however, one of them really shines through and becomes such a pleasure to watch that it really does not matter what happens with the plot or any of the other players, she is just stunning. I am talking about Agnes Kittelsen who plays Kaja. She is almost always smiling, even when there are situations when there is nothing to smile about. She exudes positive energy and cannot help it when her actions either makes someone else around her happy or rubs someone else the wrong way.
Kaja is married to Eirik (Joachim Rafaelsen) and they appear to live in the middle of nowhere Norway. They not only own their own house, but also the one next door which they rent out to people who are usually looking to get away from the city. A city couple from Denmark does exactly that when they abruptly shift from urban to rural. The new couple next door is Sigve (Henrik Rafaelsen) and Elisabeth (Maibritt Saerens). Since there is not much else to do in the immediate locale, the two couples start sharing dinners together and playing games. These games lead to uncomfortable couple comparisons which is never a good thing. Comparing your relationship to someone else’s is not the way to end the evening on a high note.
During one game, it emerges that Kaja and Eirik have not had sex in over a year and that Elisabeth has recently cheated on Sigve which was a catalyst in their decision to escape to the countryside. The couples also notice the personality clashes and matches around the dinner table. Kaja and Sigve are naturally extroverted and outwardly positive. Elisabeth and Eirik are much more reserved and while not necessarily secretive, they do not have the impulse to share their feelings around the room. These situations and personalities obviously set up what may lead to adulterous liaisons, secrets, and acrimony. However, Happy, Happy is not a heavy handed drama about adultery and revenge. There are laughs, comedic scenes, and an overall light air around the decisions these couples make in response to one another.
Each couple also has a son, although Sigve and Elisabeth’s son is adopted and black. There are scenes between the two boys, who seem to be around seven years old, which do the film no credit and do not fit. Their sequences are only peripheral to the plot and have no bearing on any central themes, which is all the more puzzling why they are even there. Their interactions disrupt the light flow and mood of the movie and should either have been completely rewritten or just taken out.
Happy, Happy won the Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic World Cinema at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and is also Norway’s official submission for the 2012 Academy Awards. It approaches its characters with maturity and understanding, characteristics true for most Scandinavian films but frequently lacking in American ones. It is also challenging to classify the film as just a comedy or a drama. There are not very many jokes or moments to laugh at but there are also very few emotional moments which aim for true drama either; it carves out a distinct middle ground.
Had director Anne Sewitsky lost those unneeded scenes with the kids she would really have a heck of film on her hands (thank goodness there are no slapstick moments or any downright weepy “woe is me” segments). Nonetheless, I recommend Happy, Happy for viewers who like Scandinavian films and appreciate movies which take their characters seriously.