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H Is For Happiness: A film with its heart utterly on its sleeve

A life-affirming live-action family movie has been difficult to find at a time when it’s most needed. Look no further than H Is For Happiness, says Simon Brew
H Is For Happiness is available on demand now. Photo: Courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films

If you’re searching for a live-action family movie, particular one with a PG certificate, then modern cinema leaves you fairly short-changed. Animation? No problem. But outside of a few rarities such as the recent adaptation of The Secret Garden and the Johnny English films, it’s increasingly hard to find something that pretty much all the family can watch, and also get something out of.

Sometimes, though, you just need to look to Australia. The 2019 Aussie movie H Is For Happiness certainly fits the bill. It’s adapted by Lisa Hoppe from a book by the name of My Life As An Alphabet by Barry Jonsberg. The story centres on a 12-year-old girl called Candice, whose family is going through a difficult time. Candice’s sister has – this isn’t a spoiler – died young, and the shared grief has pushed her parents – played by Emma Booth and Richard Roxburgh – apart.

That’s not all. Her dad is estranged too from his brother – known as rich uncle Brian – and it’s a fractured unit. Candice, played superbly by relative newcomer Daisy Axon, also has a school project to contend with. It’s a good job then that she’s such a wonderful, positive force of energy in pretty much all of the film, and very much at the heart of it. She’s a boundless force for good, refusing to let life defeat her and plotting ways to help her parents see eye to eye again. Into her life too comes a new boy at school by the name of Douglas Benson – or, as he becomes known, Douglas Benson from another dimension – and the pair soon become friends. But that opens up a thread or two as well for the film to follow.

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It’s a lot to get in to a 98-minute feature and it’d be fair to suggest it doesn’t all pack particularly neatly in there. The various narrative balls it’s juggling also come with some tonal jumps, and the film’s a little uneven as a result.

Conversely, I’d also suggest this works to its benefit. What H Is For Happiness manages to do is have a discussion with its audience about things that actually matter, while crucially remembering at heart that this is a big feelgood feature. It really is, too, building to a bring-the-house-down musical number near the end of the film that’s just sublime.

I really loved this, in spite of – perhaps a little because of – its flaws. A film with its heart utterly on its sleeve, with such positivity driving it, playing to an audience that’s been deprived of just this type of cinema. The two young leads are both real finds, and you get a bonus dash of Miriam Margolyes for your money
as well.

It’s a movie getting a relatively quiet video on demand release, albeit available from all the usual places you can rent such films. It might take a little searching to find, but it’s genuinely the best live-action family feature to come along in some time. It promises happiness, and I’d strongly suggest it delivers it too.

@simonbrew