H Is for Happiness
From Pippi Longstocking to Annie to Matilda, every recent generation of kids grows up with an endearing story of a precocious schoolgirl who possesses a poise and confidence that is inspirational. Often, these young characters are subject to familial difficulties and endure great tests along the way, empowering juvenile audiences to overcome their own trials in the manner of these heroines.
Freckle-faced Australian Candice Phee (Daisy Axon) is the latest one of these unique protagonists, outstanding in her class for her unparalleled buoyancy. She’s also remarkable at home as the positive spirit that uplifts her family through hard times, namely her father’s professional struggle and mother’s depression. She seeks to make her mother remember how to smile again, and serves as a tether between her dad and her wealthy uncle after their relationship breaks down. It’s very heavy subject matter compounded by grief (viewers learn that her mum’s mental state broke down after the death her baby), but director John Sheedy manoeuvres with grace, sensitivity and smartly timed levity.
In contrast to the darkness of the family story, there is the lightness in her friendship with the quirky new boy at school, Wesley Patten (Douglas Benson), who himself speaks as if he’s way beyond his years, especially when declaring grand romantic gestures towards Candice. Their relationship, which entails a sense of adventure, is akin to the central characters of Moonrise Kingdom and the Wes Anderson comparisons do not stop there: Sheedy displays a similar love for symmetry and whimsy, and finding universality through his singular vision.
H Is for Happiness is a lovely, feel-good affair, as effective as it is because of the sheer strength of Axon’s performance. She is a remarkable emerging talent who bursts onto the screen and commands attention from her first moment, navigating through an emotionally complicated journey with vigour and rigour. It’s hard to determine whether H Is for Happiness will share the same legacy as the family films aforementioned – it may be too idiosyncratic to garner the same mainstream appeal – however one hopes it affords its talented cast more great acting opportunities. (Or, at the very least, a high-profile guest spot on Lip Sync Battle, following the wonderful climactic scene in which they perform Dolly Parton’s Islands in the Stream!)
H Is for Happiness is released digitally on demand on 29th March 2021.
Watch the trailer for H Is for Happiness here: