H is for Happiness (PG) - 98 minutes
A thoroughly engaging, charming Australian comedy fantasy about a serious subject, H is for Happiness is a surprising gem. What a breath of fresh air!
Set in the West Australian coastal town of Albany, this is a feel-good film for all ages.
It is based upon the award-winning book My Life as an Alphabet by Barry Jonsberg.
H is for Happiness is the heart-warming story of a 12-year-old who is determined to bring her family back from the brink and spark renewed happiness in their lives.
The ever-optimistic Candice Phee (Daisy Axon) worries about her parents.
Her mother (Emma Booth) has shut herself off from the world after Candice’s baby sister died from cot death years earlier.
Her father (Richard Roxburgh) has fallen out with his brother, Rich Uncle Brian (Joel Jackson).
Into Candice’s world steps Douglas Benson from Another Dimension (Wesley Patten), the new kid in her class.
Douglas has his own problem – he believes he is visiting from another space time continuum and is determined to return to the here and now.
He thinks he can achieve that by plummeting from a tree in a forest where there is a miniature horse.
H is for Happiness is a look at a beautiful part of Australia through the eyes of a quirky outsider.
It is a decided different take on the universal themes of family, friendship, loss, grief and acceptance.
In short, it is a wonderfully quirky film with heart and soul.
Delightfully written by Lisa Hoppe – whose background is as a television writer – H is for Happiness is beautifully realised.
It features rich characterisations, stunning cinematography from Bonnie Elliott and Rick Rafici and marvellous direction from first time feature film maker John Sheedy.
The film is about persistence … never giving up and finding a way to cut through trials and tribulations.
With the two, left of centre, pivotal child characters, you could also reasonably argue it is about nerds fighting back … and how!
A wide eyed, heavily freckled, plait wearing, red headed Daisy Axon totally nails the lead as a thoughtful and intelligent girl who believes anything is possible if you put your mind to it, regardless of the obstacles placed in your way.
As the bespectacled new boy at school, Wesley Patten is her perfect foil, enabler and first crush. He, too, doesn’t miss a beat.
We’ve seen it many times before, but Alessandra Tognini does a good job nailing the popular, cool, aloof girl Jen Marshall who has no time for someone she believes to be a goodie goodie.
Around them the adults are also well realised – colourful characters in their own right.
I loved Miriam Margolyes as the teacher with an odd eyeball who sets class 7B an assignment to talk about letters of the alphabet.
Then there is Catherine Moore as the no nonsense fill-in teacher, not to forget the vulnerability of Emma Booth as Candice’s depression-hit mother and Richard Roxburgh as her IT-specialist dad who is just trying to get by.
Joel Jackson has a fun time as the cardboard cutout rich uncle who loves Candice and just wants to patch things up with his brother, while Deborah Mailman has a small and sympathetic role as Douglas Benson’s mother, Penelope.
And I mustn’t forget George Shevtsov, who has a star turn close to the movie’s end as the local fancy dress shop proprietor.
There is a wonderous, pantomime-like quality to what we see. You can lose yourself in a film like this and allow yourself to dream and hope and believe.
It is a movie that has much appeal for young children, parents and grandparents alike.
We need more inventive creations like it.
Rated PG, H is for Happiness scores an 8 out 10.