From director John Sheedy, H is For Happiness is a delightfully lighthearted drama about finding the good in every situation. With a charming blend of realistic problems and whimsical preteen fantasy, the Australian film uses a child’s story to send a valuable message for viewers of all ages. Similarly to Bridge to Terabithia or Simon Birch, H Is For Happiness proves that there can be joy after tragedy – and sometimes the youngest among us are the bravest, wisest and best.
Young Candice (Daisy Axon) has every reason in the world to be the opposite of happy – her relatives aren’t on speaking terms and the kids at school are cruel. But worst of all, her young sister died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome three years ago, and life at home seems to get more fragile and frightening for her grief-stricken parents as time passes.
Despite her overwhelming circumstances, 12-year-old Candice walks through life with the air of a wise and intelligent adult far beyond her years. She reads the dictionary for fun and knows the name of every shop owner on the block, revelling in the small joys of nature and learning new things. She takes everything in stride, and her mission in the film is to bring that joy to other people – sometimes at the risk of forcing it on them.
A class assignment involving letters of the alphabet drives the narrative. Candice is a charming narrator as screenwriter Lisa Hoppe takes us through her mulit-dimensional story, based on the novel My Life As An Alphabet by Barry Jonsberg. Rather than just stringing together the random events of a young life, the alphabet assignment gives the movie structure, purpose and light. (G is for gravity, as her new friend Douglas Benson (Wesley Patten) tries to travel to other dimensions using physics; K is for kitchen, where Candice struggles to make a pie to cheer up her depressed mother.)
H Is For Happiness is refreshing because it doesn’t play down to its younger audience. Candice is caught somewhere between being a child and an adult; the circumstances of her life have caused her to grow up too fast, but she still maintains an innocent quality. This combination makes for a joyful viewing experience, while still acknowledging how genuinely tough life can be – and how sometimes trying too hard to make it better only makes it worse.
Because it deals with a balance of light and darkness, the strange and funny H Is For Happiness paints a complete picture of growing up. With the help of a talented young lead, Sheedy and Hoppe bring life to the small problems of a preteen, like working on a class project with a bully or the pain of listening to fighting parents. It seems this sunny main character has a wide range of challenges anyone can relate to, no matter their age.
This delightfully odd and moving story might just be exactly what people need in a year that has presented a range of global challenges even Candice would have a hard time spinning into positivity. A movie with happiness in the title sure is a refreshing change at a time when we could all use a little less darkness in our lives – a simple, 96-minute reminder that things will get better.
H is also for hope.
On VOD/Digital Sept.18. Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films