Overview: A children’s book author and keeper of a magical door tires of his admission duties and does all he can to gain access to what lies behind the door: the opportunity to change the past. FilmBuff; 2015; Not Rated; 108 Minutes.
Complacency and Curiosity: From its opening, Welcome to Happiness gives meaning to the question, “What the hell is going on?” as an ever-present thought within the movie and in life itself. Director and Writer Oliver Thompson entertains and confuses in equal doses with his story of Woody Ward (Kyle Gallner) attempting his way over the threshold that so many others seem to effortlessly pass through. Thompson feeds enough information in measured servings to both placate and build the appetite. As soon as a comfortable layer of limited understanding settles, without over-explanation, Thompson spoons the next bite. The sense of giving and taking propels the movie forward at a pace that is both satisfying but dreadfully aware of its end.
An Author, a Girl, and a Landlord: All of the characters instantly exude likeable qualities: Proctor’s (Keegan-Michael Key) diction, Lillian’s (Molly C. Quinn) free-spirit/overly-attached girlfriend vibe, and Moses’s (Nick Offerman) levelheadedness. Especially notable: Woody’s ability to diffuse an awkward situation with his undeniable trustworthiness, i.e. telling random strangers to get in the closet. These seemingly random individuals support the film’s philosophy of “Everything happens for a reason.” The people we encounter even for a moment, may prove meaningful later in life. Thompson’s approach makes standard philosophy and potentially generic self-help less painful to understand by keeping his story knowingly on the surface, as to not sink the film by its own cliche weight.
The Strengths: Woody becomes the most relevant during the lowest point in his life, the moment in which many might become discontent by comparing life to others. Even when Woody hits rock bottom, the story maintains a certain levity, as if the upswing turn of meeting Nyles (Brendan Sexton III) and Ripley (Josh Brener) counters Woody’s downward turn. Do you know those people who annoyingly have a smile slapped across their face, an exorbitant amount of energy, and find the good in every single scenario? Somehow, Thompson leverages these traditionally insufferable qualities with quirky attributes in Proctor and Lillian. Toward the end of the film, Welcome to Happiness fulfills its title’s prophecy by having its character reach a happy place. That is not to say it answers all questions: What does the bizarre mural on the apartment wall mean? Where did the “D” came from? And mostly importantly, what the hell happened to Rutherford the Complacent Cat?! Leaving these seemingly important details unexplained seems to suggest that happiness isn’t a state of fulfillment or a checklist fully marked, but more so a place of accepting what we know and have and what we do not.
Overall: Welcome to Happiness condenses shelves’ worth of self-improvement books and audio tapes and self-affirmations into a whimsical, feel good film. It has some answers, not all, but just enough to provide perspective and entertainment.