Has New York City’s toxic attitude finally jaded me beyond reason? I think I’m a happy person. Generally. I laugh, smile, and feel emotions, but if so, then why do I find Oliver Thompson’s Welcome To Happiness so cheerfully off-putting? It’s pretentiously good-natured, and plays like an almost two-hour music video for The Polyphonic Spree (You know, “Follow the day, and reach for the stars!” YouTube “Light & Day.”). I’d imagine this is the feeling you’d get after being force-fed an ice cream sundae by a rainbow-pooping unicorn. Thompson’s message of purity couldn’t be clearer, but I just can’t trust a person who smiles no matter what – same applies for my movies, apparently.
Kyle Gallner stars as Woody, an apartment tenant in charge of monitoring the tiny doorway that exists in his closet. At random times, people will knock on Woody’s actual door, and he reads them printed questions that appear without warning. If the visitor is deemed worthy, a colored rock signals acceptance, and what they see behind the tiny door will change their life forever. Woody enjoys his job, until finding out that people who pass through his gateway are given the chance to undo one thing in their lives, forever altering time. This upsets Woody, who would gladly bring his parents back to life, because he’s never been approved to enter himself. Jealous, Woody starts to feel used by the miniature door, and will not rest until he can enter.
Imagine what would happen if Joy from Pixar’s Inside Out got to direct a movie, and that’s Welcome To Happiness. Scenes are all scored by a hippie-ish alt-rock soundtrack that never ceases an up-beat vibrancy, colors are aggressively vivid, and (most) characters only can hit one note – high. Like, glass-shattering, unic-choir-boy-who-was-castrated-to-keep-his-innocence high. It’s non-stop. Everyone speaks with pep in their step, and even moments of “temptation” are meant to focus only on happiness. Again, I sound like a scrooge, but I’ve never been assaulted by sun-shiny brightness on this level before, and it’s blinding in its unrelenting positivity.
That’s not to say an interesting story isn’t at play, here. Once inside Woody’s magic door, adventurers are confronted by a sweet old couple, and offered a choice. Hit a button and redefine history, or walk away from said button after hearing how life ultimately works itself out. We’re supposed to feel better about regrets that may haunt us, after hearing how something sinister spawned many more positive outcomes.
Take, for instance, a suicidal artist, who – while robbing a house – helped kill a husband and wife, leaving their children orphaned. He wants to reverse his deed (destroyed by guilt) but hears how a nice woman started a scholarship fund after seeing the orphaned children, which helped grant schooling to underprivileged children who eventually increased cancer prevention technology and so on. Suddenly, the artist’s own demons don’t seem so important, and hatred turns to acceptance.
Get it? Always look at the big picture, because everything happens for a reason. Even the bad. Our lives are dictated by actions and interactions, where something as revolting as murder sends ripple effects that lead to many more positive outcomes. Don’t worry, be happy. Hakuna Matata. Always look on the bright side of life. You’ve heard these mantras before, now learn how to achieve eternal happiness through illuminated understanding.
Oliver Thompson’s intentions are sweet, but an overly-saccharine focus does nothing in favor of performances. Most characters find themselves incessantly bopping their heads along with musical narration, which creates a jarring break of atmosphere when weightier conversations are meant to be had. Everyone has quirks – Gallner writes children’s books, Keegan-Michael Key can never keep still, Brendan Sexton III talks to a cat – but not one character gets enough time to establish themselves fully. There are simply too many faces and not enough depth to any of the stories being explored. As happy as these bastards may be, there’s no deeper meaning to be found and the film has a tremendously un-profound preaching of “BE HAPPY, REALLY!”
In an almost belittling way, Welcome To Happiness feels like a children’s show that shames you for not being happy. I know that’s wholly unintentional, but the sum of ridiculousness here doesn’t play together with any sort of social relevance. Basically, you have no right to be unhappy, and that shouldn’t make you feel bad or anything, so, just make yourself happy! Meaning will always present itself, so you should be optimistic! Yeah, the cynic in me couldn’t be swayed, and I doubt you’ll reach any differing epiphany through such a sugar-coma watch. And if you do? Give Oliver Thompson a hug and keep on smiling.
Welcome To Happiness is a strange exercise in overly-positive filmmaking that never establishes characters, but slaps on a blinding smile (for a bit too long).