“Welcome to Happiness,” written and directed by Oliver Thompson, tackles the never-ending question of how to find true happiness, but in an “Alice in Wonderland” sort of way. Woody (Kyle Gallner) is a children’s author who is also a “gatekeeper” to a proverbial rabbit hole that happens to be located in his clothes closet. After a dot matrix printer whirs (your first sign that this is rather unusual), a knock at the door is soon heard. A stranger enters, answers some bizarre questions, and is then escorted to “the door.” As these emotionally confused and desparate strangers repeatedly disappear in Woody’s closet, seemingly ending their unexpected pilgrimage, the ordinary young author by day, gatekeeper by night, finds that his extraordinary journey of life has just begun.
“Welcome to Happiness” immediately has a sense of whimsey with the vibrant colors and the vivacious characters we meet. Within that fantastical feeling there is also a sense of mystery. Initially, the events and the people seem to be disjointed, but the innovative story-lines begin to converge. The film embraces every aspect of life, love, friendship and family and all the traumas therein, and gives us a sense of reason behind every action. And just as in real life, the emotional pitfalls are counterbalanced with humor. One moment you’re full of joy and hope, laughing aloud, and the next you’re caught up in a captivating yet devastating story.
Creating these emotions without becoming melodramatic and keeping the charm and humor is a difficult balance and comes from talented writing. The details within the story are innumerable which requires paying close attention to every spoken word and visu
al clue. I guarantee that you still won’t catch everything, but that’s ok because it’s part of the fun once you see the big picture. The story has a bonus—there’s also a lesson to be learned, but this comes from your own interpretation of the film.
Bringing the written words to life requires skillful direction, allowing the pace to match the quick wit and intelligent writing. There’s not an extraneous thought or moment in this film. The characters are sometimes exaggerated, making it immensely entertaining, but again, these exaggerations are all a part of the final product. If I’m seeming a bit guarded in giving you information, I am. This is pure fun while taking a look at the realities in life and I don’t want to spoil it for you.
The cast of “Welcome to Happiness” is extraordinarily talented. Galln
er creates the character of Woody who is just an everyday young man, but we quickly see there are interesting layers beneath the surface that give him realistic and relatable complexity. He allows his emotions to be seen with impeccable timing and talent; never too much and never too little. He carries the film, but has the support of one of the best casts you could possibly imagine. With Nick Offerman as the landlord, Olivia Thirlby as his girlfriend, and Keegan-Michael Key bringing to the table his uniquely creative sense of style and humor, the film soars. Paget Brewster, Molly C. Quinn, and Frances Conroy round out the recognizable cast, giving steadfast performances.
“Welcome to Happiness” is a true gem. Never has finding happiness been such fun. It’s a playfully unconventional story with eccentric characters and superb acting to give us a neatly wrapped package full of wonderful surprises. This delightful film is screening at the Phoenix Film Festival. For more information about tickets and times, go to www.phoenixfilmfestival.com
To hear the interview with Pamela Powell on WKCC’s The Reel Focus, go to Archive.org