Films like happy, happy remind me of a sequence in a lesser known Kevin Bacon film titled The Big Picture. In it, Bacon's character talks about a movie where two families meet in a winter cabin and conflict arises that causes tension among the families. The events there ring somewhat familiar when watching happy, happy though things tend to play themselves out in a slightly different manner than we may be accustomed to seeing.
happy, happy is a Norwegian import written by Ragnhild Tronvoll and directed by Anne Sewitsky. Kaja (Agnes Kittelsen) is married to Eirik (Joachim Rafaelsen), and they have a child and live comfortably in the country. Kaja's marriage to Eirik appears soulless at times, yet her outlook on life does not waver and she enjoys what few things come her way. Things change somewhat when they receive new neighbors in Elisabeth (Maibritt Saerens) and Sigve (Henrik Rafaelsen). Elisabeth and Sigve appear to get along tremendously, having found the local church choir which they both participate in. They even adopted a young boy from Africa who takes up a friendship of sorts with Kaja's son. As Kaja becomes more involved with being a welcoming host to their new neighbors, she finds herself evaluating and comparing her marriage to theirs, and things get a little, how you say, complicated.
The performances from both of the female actresses within the story are surprising and engaging. Kittlesen (a dead ringer for Jane Leeves), portrays Kaja both with whimsy and a touch of heartbreak. To a degree, one can sense a hidden desperation within Kaja. She is less concerned about her current predicament if it means maintaining a certain degree of status, and with that she can continue her effervescent demeanor. She is impressed with Sigve and Elisabeth, and to the latter, Saerens (looking a lot like Maria Bello) maintains the status of her own family to a degree as well, though we discover there has been some cracks in that façade also. Contrasted with Kaja's optimism, there seems to be some stoicism between Sigve and Elisabeth, almost to the point of passive aggressiveness. The similarities between how Kaja and Elisabeth handled their affairs (no pun intended) are clever.
The performances outweigh the story being told to a degree. It's not that the story is flimsy; the ramifications of the characters unfold almost as one could expect, though there are some moments here and there that may be designed to invoke some whimsy. Some of them work (like a Norwegian a cappella quartet serving as a chapter break function) and others within the movie are a little on the cringe-worthy side (the way the kids play with one another being the big one). But Sewitsky does not make these things as frequent as to oversaturate the story. It is how the families' adults act with one another that makes for interesting viewing, and the ending of the film makes you forget it almost immediately.
In a weird way, happy, happy realizes the dream that Kevin Bacon's fictional Nick Chapman was hoping for coming out of film school. We have an intriguing character-driven piece with some solid performances and some occasional style choices that verge on the quirky side of things. In it, happy, happy is less about a state of mine and almost more a positive reiteration to maintain appearances. With contributions from Kittlesen, Saerens and falling under Sewitsky's direction, the film is a good mix of drama and humor throughout.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Presented in 1.85:1 widescreen and in high-definition using the AVC codec, happy, happy is presumably filmed in Norway, which would lead me to believe that there are few things to expect other than snowy exteriors, and that is what we get in many sequences, looking natural without appearing blown out. Flesh tones are also natural and replicated accurately without hues. The film appears to be shot with a lot of natural light, and this look is conveyed on the disc nicely without much in the way of DNR or image haloing. The disc shows the film off solidly, which you could not ask for much more of.
No dubbing here, the DTS-HD Master Audio lossless surround track is Norwegian, so you're going to have to read the film (in English or Spanish subtitles) and like it buddy. The lossless track does not have much to do in the rear channels, and the subwoofer remains dormant, not feeling the urge to engage and fill out a little bit of low end activity. The rear channels do have some directional activity and quietly reproduce the environmental sounds when the actors are outdoors, making for some subtle immersion during listening. Dialogue is consistent and requires little in the way of user adjustment, and overall the soundtrack handles what is thrown at effectively.
Aside from the U.S. and International trailers, nary a thing to accompany the film.
happy, happy is an interesting twist on a character-driven drama in a cabin during the winter, and in a film with two interesting personalities in it, it becomes a better than expected experience. Granted, technically it is not going to win any awards and there is bupkis in the bonus department, but the film's performances in and of itself make it worth the time to check out.