I have a fondness for overly-saturated, candy-colored films. So from the moment I pressed “play” on H Is For Happiness, I knew that, if nothing else, the visuals were going to be a treat. Luckily there is a lot more to behold in this cinematic eye candy beneath that shiny wrapper.
Candice Phee (Daisy Axon) is a freckle-faced, pigtailed, 12-year-old with boundless optimism. She is the type of student who will cheerfully correct her teacher when she makes a mistake, line up her gel pens in a perfectly organized queue across her desk, and speak in words well beyond the vocabulary of her peers. It is strongly hinted that Candice might be on the Autism spectrum, but she denies this when asked.
Candice embodies good cheer, despite facing significant problems at home. Or, as she puts it, “I would have to be living in a lead-lined coffin not to realize everyone is miserable.” Her mother Claire (Emma Booth) spends most of her time in bed, struggling with severe depression brought on by the death of her infant daughter. Candice’s father Jim (Richard Roxburgh) is in a bitter feud with her Rich Uncle Brian (Joel Jackson) after they had a falling out and ended up in court over their business partnership. And yes, Candice does indeed refer to him as “Rich Uncle Brian” throughout the film.
New student Douglas Benson (Wesley Patten) arrives at Candice’s school, bringing with him his own quirky way of looking at things. Candice refers to him as “Douglas Benson from Another Dimension” throughout the film because Douglas claims he actually is from another dimension. Prior to arriving at Candice’s school, Douglas had fallen from a tree and the resulting brain injury led him to believe he now exists in something of a multi-verse. However, he desperately wants to return home, and he will sometimes jump from trees hoping that the impact will return him to his native dimension.
Candice receives a classroom assignment to tell a personal story based on a letter of the alphabet. The essays will be presented in an assembly that parents, family, and friends are invited to attend. Candice takes inspiration from her homework, and with a little help from Douglas, embarks on a journey to bring happiness back to her family.
The film projects a vividly colored appearance, but there is a whimsical quality to the film that goes deeper than the aesthetics. From the lively characters in vintage costuming to the tiny horse that occasionally appears in the forest, H Is For Happiness has a layer of fantasy woven throughout it. That lightness helps to balance out the darker moments in the film. The gloom of Candice’s family life is reinforced by a more somber color palette whenever she is at home. The moment we step outside, we are back to the exuberant tones, with flamboyant characters like the fancy-dressed proprietor of the local costume shop making an appearance. By incorporating these contrasting moods, director John Sheedy delivers a surprisingly deep story, surrounded in layer after layer of cotton candy fluff.
Newcomer Daisy Axon is a delight. She adds warmth and charm to Candice, a quirky character who could easily come off as overly precocious in less capable hands. She faces typical pre-teen challenges like fitting in, along with some not so typical ones like her difficult home life, with an irrepressibility that many adults would envy. All this is done with the occasional reminder that she is still just a kid, even if her vocabulary would indicate otherwise.
I would not call this film an emotional roller coaster, but it did pull on the heartstrings many times. Though Candice approached everything with a smile, you could always see the cracks beneath the surface. The story is fully fleshed out, but the final act was resolved a bit too easily. The “happily ever after” seemed to just happen rather than being earned. Even so, I managed to walk away ultimately satisfied by the ending. H is for Happiness is a fun and heartwarming family film that is sure to leave all but the most cynical of viewers feeling warm and fuzzy inside.
You can stream H is for Happiness on Video On Demand and Digital beginning on September 18, 2020.
About H Is For Happiness
A twelve-year-old girl with boundless optimism and a unique view of the world, is inspired by the strange new boy at school and sets out to mend her broken family – whatever it takes.