Friday, May 20, 2016

WELCOME TO HAPPINESS: Oliver Thompson's how-(not)-to-fix-your-life movie opens

This is somewhat unusual. Two days in a row TrustMovies finds himself covering a film dedicated to providing a particular philosophy of life. With yesterday's Ma Ma, Julio Medem told us to "think, feel, experience, struggle, suffer" and all the rest -- and do it full out -- while in today's WELCOME TO HAPPINESS, first-time writer/ director Oliver Thompson (below) pleads with us not to waste time wishing to fix the past. Instead, get on with life. Though the Medem movie is much classier, bigger-budgeted and more assured, I'll go with Mr. Thompson's philosophy.

To be quite truthful, both movies are a mess, yet both have their charm and offer some enjoyment along the way. In Welcome to Happiness, the lead character, a 'blocked' children's-book writer named Woody (played by Kyle Gallner, below) rents an apartment from a landlord named Moses (Nick Offerman, shown at bottom), whom we might, had we a religious bent, view as a kind of 'god' (or at least a heavy-duty religious figure). That's because Woody's job, as per Moses, is to shepherd the folk who arrive at this apartment through some questions, a bit of rock holding and finally into a closet in which exists a door that will open to them and transport them to a place where they can undo their prior mistakes. Wow -- nice! Well, maybe.

We meet a few of these people -- primarily Nyles (Brendan Sexton III, below, right) and Ripley (Josh Brener, below, left), both of whom would dearly love to change the past. They're connected, in way that they will probably never come to know. And that's all right. Fortunately Thompson understands enough not to belabor exposition like this.

There's also a would-be girlfriend, played with her usual verve by Olivia Thirlby (below, right), Woody's frustrated agent (Paget Brewster, two photos below), and a very lovely strawberry blond (Molly C. Quinn), who acts as a kind of tour guide for Woody. Unfortunately these ladies have very little character to display or plot to develop. As too often happens with male filmmakers, it's just the guys who are worth our interest here.

Not that these guys are not important nor have not been given any less than their due via the excellent actors. Thompson does better, woman-wise, by the wonderful Frances Conroy, who plays one of the pair who lies behind that fabled doorway.  So life lessons are learned by all, the most important being: Move on. The past cannot be changed, and in any case, the repercussions from this might be worse than what we already have.

The movie is a good fifteen minutes too long, as well. Thompson doesn't know how to quit while he's ahead. Yet he's given us an mostly engaging, oddball effort that combines fantasy, philosophy and (some) fun. I'll be interested to see what he offers up next.

Meanwhile, WELCOME TO HAPPINESS, from FilmBuff, opens today, Friday, May 20, in New York City at the Cinema Village, in Los Angeles at Laemmle's NoHo 7. Elsewhere? Click here to see all currently scheduled playdates. And, if you're not near the selected theatrical cities, don't worry: the movie is simultaneously available via VOD.

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