Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Happiness for Beginners: Movie Review

A light-weight romantic dramedy with a lovely tranquil and serene atmosphere.
Happiness for Beginners gets off on the right foot. Ellie Kemper’s Helen is funny and Luke Grimes’ Jake is sweet. Helen is a little miss perfectionist, plans things to the detail and expects everyone else to just follow her lead. That type of character can get annoying but Kemper provides her with enough humanity that audiences are most likely to be sympathetic to her rather than frustrated by her.   2023

Directed by: Vicky Wight

Screenplay by: Vicky Wight, Katherine Center

Starring: Ellie Kemper, Luke Grimes

Helen is recently divorced to an ex-husband who “forgets we’re divorced” and she needs an activity to find herself again. A woman who seems older than she is because she’s tired and angry or as Jake says “used to be fun.” This activity is a Hiking for Beginners course. A group of strangers hiking for two weeks. Well, a group of almost all strangers. Jake, Helen’s brother’s best friend, unexpectedly shows up.

This hiking team is primarily a mish-mash of weird people whose extreme or eccentric personalities are supposed to be funny and serve as comic relief, but it’s so obvious that that’s their role, they tend to be more annoying than funny, especially when the film switches course and wants to use one of these side characters for dramatic purposes. None of them are fleshed out or interesting people to be able to serve the film in either comedy or drama. Luckily that’s where the leads save the day.

Apart from one weird scene where Helen decides to get really mad at Jake for joining the hiking group without her knowing, Helen and Jake are both easy to like characters. They both have compassion and humility and are very well-rounded. The backstory for each character gets slowly revealed throughout the movie just as their relationship gradually builds from not-quite-friends to more-than-friends.

Happiness for Beginners is a lightweight Wild. The infusion with comedy isn’t very effective, but it’s a very relatable look at moving on from tragedy and striving to be a better version of yourself. Filmed in Connecticut, the photography isn’t necessarily spectacular or breathtaking, but it is consistently pretty. The film has a very lovely tranquil and serene atmosphere which perfectly serves the slight but not unnoticeable evolution to Helen. It’s an easy film to lose yourself in; it has a very relaxed feel which is a perfect tone for this type of movie.

A small, minor spoiler here, another character mentions to Helen that she looks different at the end. And it’s true she does; but this has nothing to do with the makeup or costume department styling her differently, this is entirely credit to Ellie Kemper and how she carries herself as Helen to show the new side of Helen at the end. It’s a small point but does show there is real acting in these lightweight movies and that does make a difference.

This is an easy-to-watch movie with characters you can root for. It’s light on the comedy and their romantic chemistry isn’t undeniable but that doesn’t hurt the film because Kemper’s Helen and Grimes’ Jake are both lived-in characters, they’re real human adults who are both looking to navigate a better future for themselves.