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Family is the most important thing in the world to Kaja, but when "the perfect couple" moves in next door, she struggles to keep her emotions in check. These new neighbors open a new world to Kaja with consequences for everyone involved.
For more about Happy, Happy and the Happy, Happy Blu-ray release, see Happy, Happy Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on February 2, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Agnes Kittelsen, Henrik Rafaelsen, Joachim Rafaelsen, Maibritt Saerens
Director: Anne Sewitsky
» See full cast & crew
Happy, Happy Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, February 2, 2012
Happy, Happy, winner of the world cinema grand jury prize at last year's Sundance, opens with four extremely droll Norwegian guys in suits and ties standing in front of a blue velvet curtain, singing a gospel song in English. "What the hell have I gotten myself into?" you may ask, but give the film time. Eventually, we realize that this acapella quartet--which appears periodically to sing other tunes--has nothing whatsoever to do with the plot, but functions instead as a kind of ironic Greek chorus, loosely commenting in song on the ongoing story.
The inclusion of the singers is an odd choice for debut director Anne Sewitsky, but it's only one oddity among many in Happy, Happy, a low-key adult drama/comedy that has its sense of indie quirkiness--as much as I hate the phrase--down pat. To give but one example to start, this is a film where a native Norwegian boy makes his next door neighbor friend, an adopted African child, play "Master and Slave" behind their parents' backs, inspired by a book on the 19th century slave trade. Yes, it's unsettling, and played for uncomfortable laughs, but there's a kind of blithe childhood innocence to it too; these are kids being kids, off in their own little world while the adults play some weird relationship games of their own.
Happy, Happy is set in deep rural Norway, isolated and blanketed in snow. It'd be the ideal place for an icy slasher movie, but this isn't that kind of film. Here, we're dealing with love, marriage, adultery, and all the complicated emotions and mind-games that come along with sexual drama. The deeply insecure Kaja (Agnes Kittelsen), who compensates with wild over-enthusiasm about everything, has a strange relationship with her gruff and insensitive husband Eirik (Joachim Rafaelsen) and their son Theodor, a pint-sized tyrant who's a real daddy's boy. Whatever the opposite of hen-pecked is--and yes, cock-pecked sounds strangely appropriate--that's Kaja, the lone woman in a male-dominated household.
She's clearly lonely and desperate and probably a bit stir-crazy, so she's almost hyperactively excited when her and Eirik rent out the house next door to a seemingly perfect couple from the city. The reserved Elisabeth (Maibritt Saerens) and her jovial husband Sigve (Henrik Rafaelson) arrive with their adopted Ethiopian son, Noa, and a few days later, as the kids have their aforementioned racially-charged play date, their parents get a bit too drunk at dinner and decide to play "The Couples Game." Needless to say, some T.M.I.-type facts spill out; namely, that Elisabeth and Sigve have moved to the country as a fresh start after Elisabeth had an affair, and that Kaja and Eirik haven't had sex in over a year, which Eirik--trying to preserve his masculine pride--chalks up to Kaja's "yeast infection." It's some of the most awkwardly heavy table-talk imaginable.
By this point, there's no question that we're in for some partner-swapping, but Happy, Happy isn't nearly as predictable as it initially seems. Kaja and Sigve do indeed start their own affair--a drunken laundry-room indiscretion becomes a regular thing when Eirik goes away on a long hunting trip--and we gradually come to sympathize with them. Kaja is finally getting the love and adoration she's never gotten from her sexually and emotionally distant husband, and Elisabeth is so dismissive and uninterested in Sigve that his sleeping around almost feels justified. Is it, though? Of course, that all depends on your own personal convictions about commitment, and it's one of the questions that Happy, Happy might leave you talking about afterward. The film itself is mostly morally ambiguous; there's no "message" here except that relationships are difficult and that it's important to be honest with yourself and the ones you love.
In a psychological sense, Sewitsky's script is genuinely astute. Some of the characters' actions are puzzling at first--like why Eirik seems so physically repulsed by his wife--but as their secrets are gradually revealed, the core problems in their relationships snap satisfyingly into focus. The whole situation is a pressure cooker of repression, sexual frustration, and general unhappiness, and though this might sound incredibly depressing, Sewitsky lets out some steam when necessary with wry comic relief. (The acapella quartet shows up at a few perfectly tension-dispersing moments.) It also helps that the characters are so relatable, even if their particular issues seem slightly exaggerated within the context of a short, 88-minute film. You know people like this, and you feel for them.
Especially Kaja. She's so desperate to be liked that she constantly embarrasses herself, feeding a cycle of social awkwardness. All of the acting is great, but Agnes Kittelson is especially wonderful here--she's real, she's funny, and she's absolutely heartbreaking. When she performs the solo in "Amazing Grace" at a church Christmas service and can't quite get the first few notes right, you feel like audibly cheering her on. You want everything to work out for her--for her to have the loving family she deserves and also find some measure of self-worth. I won't comment on the ending, of course, except to say that it's bittersweetly sentimental in all the right sad and heartwarming ways.
Happy, Happy Blu-ray, Video Quality
Happy, Happy was a fairly low-budget production, and it was shot on 16mm instead of 35mm or digital. The smaller negative size automatically translates into a slightly softer, grainier image than most films--and there's really not much that can be done about that--but as far as 16mm movies go, this one is actually quite nicely resolved on Blu-ray, with a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that looks true-to-source. Although the picture can be a bit mushy-looking during longer shots, closeups reveal a decent level of fine detail in the actors' faces and clothing. There might be some noise reduction applied, but grain still looks natural--it spikes visibly during darker scenes--and I didn't notice any by-products of edge enhancement. The film's color palette is somewhat dim and yellow-tinged in the highlights, but this seems intentional. The only potential issue is that the contrast curve is perhaps a bit too heavily weighted in the shadows during most low-light scenes, and even in some of the brighter sequences, which has the effect of obscuring detail we might otherwise be able to see. No big deal, though. There are no rampant compression artifacts or encode issues, the print is in perfect condition, and you get the feeling that this is probably the best Happy, Happy is ever going to look.
Happy, Happy Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Magnolia Home Entertainment has given Happy, Happy the usual lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, and as you'd expect from this kind of small-scale family drama/comedy, the sound design is decidedly low-key. The emphasis here is strongly on the film's dialogue, which is cleanly reproduced--no muffling, peaking, or crackling--and always at the forefront of the mix. The audio mainly stays hunkered down in the front channels, but the surround speakers do get occasional action in the form of light ambience--the hush over a snowy field, for instance--and music that gets bled into the rears. The only times the track really gets to assert itself dynamically is during the acapella numbers, where the voices are rich and bright and clear. The mix is unremarkable in a good way--it does what it needs to do without any distractions. The disc includes optional English, English SDH, and Spanish subtitles.
Happy, Happy Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Happy, Happy Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
It's no mystery to see why Happy, Happy was a Sundance favorite--it's a near-perfect balance of affecting and funny, awkward and weird. It's a very small film--with its limited, isolated setting, it's practically a chamber drama--and this makes it all the more enjoyably intimate. Fans of Scandinavian cinema take note. Recommended.
Happy, Happy Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Happy, Happy Blu-ray - October 24, 2011
Magnolia Pictures will release on Blu-ray Norwegian director Anne Sewitsky's comedy Sykt lykkelig a.k.a Happy, Happy (2010), starring Agnes Kittelsen, Henrik Rafaelsen, and Joachim Rafaelsen. The film is a winner of the World Cinema Jury Prize at the Sundance Film ...
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