‘Welcome to Happiness’ Can’t Match its Craft to its Ambition

GameStop, Inc.

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Sometimes the best way to learn is through making mistakes. This is true many facets of life, including creative endeavors such as writing and filmmaking. Welcome to Happiness, the writing-directing debut of Oliver Thompson, features a number of intriguing elements in its story and its structure, but it just riddled with so many flaws in its storytelling and cinematic presentation that it fails to coalesce into anything other than a misguided movie by a young filmmaker whose ambition can’t match his craft.

When we first see Woody (Kyle Gallner), he’s helping a teary eyed woman who has unexpectedly arrived at his apartment. He asks her odd questions before showing her to this tiny door in her closet. What’s behind the door? Well, that’s a question that will be answered much later in the movie. Elsewhere, Nyles (Brenan Sexton III), an artist, is feeling suicidal, a gun ready in his mouth and his finger on the trigger. When he sees a home shopping show selling a baseball card that he owns, he realizes that perhaps his troubles aren’t so bad and proceeds to try and sell his cards. That leads to an encounter between Ripley (Josh Brenner) and Nyles, where Ripley discovers that Nyles is in possession of a super-rare baseball card with an elaborate backstory, one obviously crafted around an infamous card featuring Billy Ripken. Nyles then attempts to sell his ultra-rare card to Proctor (Keegan-Michael Key), an eccentric that lives in a fairly secluded home with Lillian (Molly C. Quinn).

Back at his apartment, Woody is struggling with his job as a children’s book author much to the chagrin of his agent Priscilla (Paget Brewster). Things aren’t all bad for him. He’s just started a relationship with Trudy (Olivia Thirlby), a neighbor, and receives sage-like advice from his landlord Moses (Nick Offerman). Still, people come to his house where quizzes them before shuffling them off into his mysterious and magical door. More than an hour into the film we’re finally informed the secret of the door: people living with regret can enter and have one day of their lives undone but they must weigh the consequences before making their decision.

It’s obvious while watching Welcome to Happiness that Oliver Thompson is aiming for the realm of Charlie Kaufman, a blend of oddball quirkiness mixed with high-minded examination of human emotions. However, the script for Welcome to Happiness was in dire need of more refining before filming. There are just so many characters swirling around the film and Thompson has a hard time following each one or even giving them story arcs. Many characters seem to incredibly integral to the story early on only to disappear for large chunks of time before reappearing at the conclusion. It can really make for a frustrating viewing experience.

In the same regards that Welcome to Happiness needed more work on its script, the film could’ve used more work in the editing room. The movie has a glacial pacing featuring pointless moments where some dreadful indie pop music swells and characters walk in slow motion, just affirming how little concern is given to the audience’s time. Scenes just run on for far too long with little narrative purpose, or if they do have any purpose it takes far too long for their meaning to be revealed. At nearly 110 minutes, there are easily a solid 20 minutes that could be excised from Welcome to Happiness and have no effect on the film’s overall narrative.

There are some really intriguing ideas featured in Welcome to Happiness, but the execution is so severely lacking that it never really comes together beyond the surface. Perhaps with his next feature Oliver Thompson will figure out the way to convey the larger themes into a more satisfying viewing experience. A quirky premise played out with some cheesy indie rock doesn’t make a movie, and the finished product is a maudlin little drama that fall short on everything it tries. I’m guessing if Oliver Thompson could crawl into that little door and undo a certain day, it’d be the day he submitted his final cut. But the young filmmaker can’t undo the past, so here’s hoping he’ll set his sights on bringing all of his elements together for his next picture. Sometimes it’s best to learn by making mistakes.

Welcome to Happiness
  • Overall Score
1.5

Summary

Welcome to Happiness has some intriguing ideas that obscured by a filmmaking craft that can’t match the ambition of its first time writer-director.

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