H is for Happiness
by Cat McAlpine
H is for Happiness navigates grownup tensions and trauma from the perspective of an optimistic 12 year-old named Candice (Daisy Axon). Candice’s class is given an assignment to recount their life via a narrative based on the letters of the alphabet. On the same day, a new student arrives.
“Can you keep a secret?” newcomer Douglas asks her.
“No.” Candice chirps back with cheerful honesty.
Douglas (Wesley Patten) claims he’s from another dimension, but it doesn’t faze Candice. Little bits of mystery and magical realism like this make Candice’s world deeper and more fantastical, even when the magic ends up being rooted in reality.
Brightly colored and fun, exaggerated moments make the film’s world seem vibrant and alive in a storybook kind of way. But it has its dark moments too. Candice may be hopelessly optimistic but everyone around her is miserable. Her grieving, depressed mother stays in a room deeply saturated in blue. Her father and uncle, at odds, exist in opposite landscapes. Her father works in a tiny garage office. Her rich uncle sails a picturesque sailboat on a bright blue sea.
While H is for Happiness is told through Candice’s eyes, it’s not just a watered-down children’s story. The way it unfolds is enjoyable to all ages. Instead of going for easy laughs, the film explores the frustration of trying to fix a broken family with silly hijinks that simply don’t work. The heavy dose of realism creates continued tension throughout and motivates Candice to continue exploring what her role in the world might be as she turns 13.
Director John Sheedy frames his shots with whimsy and beauty, showing adults struggling through Candice’s eyes. Bright colors are always caught just off in the corner to show how the world continues beyond the screen. Candice’s broken-spirited father is perfectly framed by pastel balloons at a fateful birthday party. Its images like these that meld nostalgic memories with the realities behind them.
Making her film debut, Axon is fantastic as Candice, showing a precocious can-do attitude will make you fall in love with her immediately. Her partner in crime, Patten, is charming and equally likable as Douglas from Another Dimension.
H is for Happiness is a beautifully crafted coming-of-age movie that teeters on the edge of childhood innocence and the next step beyond it.