Anne Sewitsky's partner-swapping Norwegian rom-com is a dark delight which dares to do things differently.
The term ‘rom-com’ may seem like an unlikely categorisation for a film which deals with infidelity, masturbation and racism, but Norway’s answer to Todd Solondz, Anne Sewitsky, offers up a dark, delightful debut feature which bravely goes where no rom-com has gone before. And it comes up smiling.
Happy, Happy centres on the domestic strains of sweet homebody Kaja (Agnes Kittelsen), the film’s eternally optimistic yet consistently discontented protagonist. Stuck in a fruitless marriage with closet homosexual Eirik (Joachim Rafaelsen), Kaja’s humdrum existence is revitalised by the arrival of refined and seemingly level-headed out-of-towners Elisabeth (Maibritt Saerens) and husband Sigve (Henrik Rafaelsen) into their scarcely populated and insular community.
The façade of marital bliss is exposed on both sides at a customary dinner party, where a Mr & Mrs-style game of scruples reveals Eirik’s lack of intimate interest in Kaja and Elisabeth’s recent extra-marital affair. The narrative charts the further demise of the two relationships as Kaja embarks on an uncharacteristic, somewhat justified affair with Elisabeth’s emasculated and restless husband.
The film offers an added depth to the formulaic romance in its presentation of female sexual frustration and desire, routinely avoided in mythical Hollywood fairytales of female fulfillment. Performances by the two starkly contrasting female leads are the film’s highlight: Kittelsen is a revelation as the primitive, kind-spirited, wide-eyed Kaja, who is fascinated by her binary opposite, the icy Elisabeth, herself a worldly, sophisticated lawyer and sympathetic villain of the piece who initially views Kaja’s child-like enthusiasm with contempt.
Interestingly, the film combines romance and comedy with melodrama, using music as a device to further explore the characters’ collective state of mind. Kaja performs an arousing solo of Amazing Grace as the community choir’s festive showpiece in a moment of quiet poignancy. At a time of collective inner turmoil for the film’s ensemble, the song movingly conveys the themes of redemption and forgiveness at the heart of the film.
A male voice choir provides symbolic bookmarks, delivering expressive musical melodies which complement the on-screen mood. These quirky and effective installments serve to underscore key emotional moments which render the characters otherwise speechless, such as Kaja’s long awaited sexual awakening at the hands of Sigve.
An unnecessary desire to ensure the characters get their ‘happy ever after’ results in a needlessly absurd ending, which thankfully, fails to detract from this breath of genre-busting fresh air.
It's had various awards nods and notable festival appearances in its lifetime. Not bad for a debut.
Darkly comic and surprisingly touching in equal measure.
The clue is in the title.