"“A film that covers intriguing themes, but without the conviction to see them through...”"

In a year that has seen a plethora of Scandinavian films released in the UK, with the likes of A Royal Affair, Headhunters and The Hunt to name but three; we are now presented with a film that bears the promise of perhaps being a somewhat more cheery offering from a region that tends to steer towards the melancholic side to cinema. However, despite the title Happy Happy, instead we are treated to a sweet degree of irony. What did we expect?

We follow the life of Kaja (Agnes Kittelsen), an inherently optimistic individual, making ends meet with her detached husband Eirik (Joachim Rafaelsen), who spends little time with his wife, and shows no affection towards her, blindly refusing to have sex as she doesn't look after her appearance enough. However, Kaja puts on a brave face, but when the seemingly idyllic couple Elisabeth (Maibritt Saerens) and Sigve (Henrik Rafaelsen) move in across the road, it provokes a host of previously concealed emotions for the unhappy pair.

Suddenly Kaja comes to terms with her despairing predicament as she compares her relationship to Elisabeth and Sigve's – and as she develops feelings for the latter, her marriage and family dynamics with her young son are thrown into disarray, and she begins to question her own happiness and state of mind. Meanwhile, the new neighbours' marriage may not be as blissful as Kaja had initially envisaged.

There are a host of dynamics to Anne Sewitsky's debut feature film, as we delve in to two marriages, which despite seeming like polar opposites to begin with, are in fact not quite so dissimilar. You then have the sub-narrative between the two couples' kids. Kaja's son Theodor (Oskar Hernaes Brandso) and Elisabeth's adopted African son Noa (Ram Shihab Ebedy) who form a rather askew, corrupted friendship, and one that sees Theodor treat Noa like a slave, delving into the historical background of the young boy's culture. Within this Sewitsky is highlighting the naïve ignorance of children, but also how their parents, preoccupied with their own personal issues, are actually disregarding the education and guidance their children need. The theme is also highlighted within the bluesy, soulful score, provided by an a capella quartet, making up the musical interludes throughout the film. Not to mention Kaja's rendition of Amazing Grace.

At the very heart of Happy Happy, however, is Kaja, and Kittelsen does a fantastic job of bringing this role to life, in what is a really endearing, and empathetic character, and one that you certainly care for - vital to do so given we are following her story. It's also important to get you on her side to help appreciate and comprehend her decision to become close to Sigve. Credit must also go by way of  Joachim Rafaelsen whose easily dislikable character of Eirik helps make this possible. However, he does well in providing the role with a sense of vulnerability as you can't help but feel slightly sorry for him.

Despite these good qualities, Happy Happy can't avoid becoming somewhat boring, and Kaja aside, you do feel little for the other characters and their situations. It seems like a film that covers intriguing themes, but without the conviction to see them through and we struggle to fully come to terms with what Sewitsky is attempting to portray.

Nonetheless, the film stays loyal to its title in many respects, upholding and maintaining a happy, happy atmosphere (helped along with the pre-Christmas setting), despite everything around our protagonists slowly failing and turning sour. In a sense, the film is reflective of Kaja's own life, staying positive and upbeat despite suffering on the inside.