Current Issue #488

Film Review:
H is for Happiness

Theatre director John Sheedy makes his feature début with this filming of Barry Jonsberg’s young adult novel My Life As An Alphabet, and the result shoots for a little of the gratingly surreal whimsy of Girl Asleep, but there’s a harder, sadder emotional core.

Newcomer Daisy Axon (her first film, although her second, Judy & Punch, was released before this) is Candice Phee, a bright, optimistic 12 year old in the seaside town of Albany, Western Australia, who’s the favourite of eccentric teacher Miss Bamford (the English Miriam Margolyes with a weirdly wandering eye that reminds us of ‘Mad-Eye’ Moody in Harry Potter). The nerdy, not-exactly-popular Candice seems very much in control at first, and yet her obsession with patterns, details and the dictionary suggests something darker is going on. And indeed it is.

Returning home, we learn that her Mum Claire (Emma Booth, currently in Stan’s The Gloaming) has been hit hard with depression since the death of Candice’s baby sister, and her similarly grieving Dad Jim (Richard Roxburgh) is also seriously alienated from his own brother, the rather lonely ‘Rich Uncle Brian’ (Joel Jackson). It’s an awful lot for any kid to deal with, and a great deal for a movie ostensibly for younger audiences to handle too.

Candice needs a friend, and he appears in the form of new kid Douglas Benson (Wesley Patten, also in director Sheedy’s previous short Mrs. McCutcheon), a sweet lad who insists that he’s from another dimension and is therefore irritatingly called “Douglas Benson From Another Dimension” over and over and over. While Claire remains pretty much bedridden and Jim gets lost in computers, Douglas takes Candice to the nearby forest in what could be a horror film scenario, but which turns out to be something apparently magical, complete with a cutely enchanted Shetland pony.

Despite the strangely unreal look and feel of much of Sheedy’s and screenwriter Lisa Hoppe’s film (note the odd use of colour, the many dream and fantasy sequences, and so forth), this nevertheless often comes across as very real, with flawed characters in authentic pain and mostly strong playing from the cast, even if Margolyes naturally overacts (sorry!). And yet, somehow, you can’t help but think such a troubled teen-targeted tale might be a hard sell for audiences wanting something bigger, easier and, dare it be said, less Australian.

But Y is for… You Never Know.

Reviewer Rating

H Is For Happiness (PG) is now screening at selected cinemas

DM Bradley

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