Just like how Quentin Tarantino’s rise to fame after Pulp Fiction brought in a slew of copycats, so has Wes Anderson’s.
There’s not much within Welcome to Happiness that’s all that reminiscent of Anderson, but there’s a certain desperation to be quirky within this film that one can’t help but think of the master. There is one problem however. Welcome to Happiness simply isn’t all that funny. All of the cutesy blocking and set design ultimately goes to waste as the movie is far too invested in its narrative gimmick. Or rather, the film is far too obsessed with the idea of their narrative gimmick.
Welcome to Happiness opens on a man named Woody (Kyle Gallner). He is a children’s book author, but struggling with his new book. His frustrated work is interrupted by the sound of his printer and a knock at the door. He answers the door and guides the stranger (Bess Rous) through a set of rituals, before leading her to his closet where she enters a magical world through a tiny doorway.
It’s certainly an attention-getting introduction. It’s also a little confusing. And this confusion continues for the next half of the film as two more main characters are introduced: Nyles (Brendan Sexton III), a suicidal artist, and Ripley (Josh), a pathless loner. These three characters only meet each other once or twice, and never all in the same place. For the first half of the film, it is dubious as to why all three characters exist within the film’s narrative. When the second half of the film arrives, the answer seems far too simple. This lack of complexity delivers a payoff that is disappointing at best.
This disappointment is emblematic of the film as a whole. A magical world in Woody’s closet that he can’t access is an interesting start, but the film spends too much time obsessing about the mystery that when it is revealed, it seems like a cop-out.
Even if this magical realm is to serve as a McGuffin for the movie, Welcome to Happiness still needs work in the character development realm. For example, Woody’s personality is largely explored through the characters he interacts with. His bae (Olivia Thirlby), agent (Paget Brewster) and landlord (Nick Offerman) are all essentially just there to serve his character. Not only does the film not pass the Bechdel test, but Woody’s character still manages to seem a little flat.
The most disappointing aspect of Welcome to Happiness is that there is so much potential. Writer/director Oliver Thompson clearly has a knack for filmmaking, but his talent is not not properly honed. There isn’t enough tension within the movie for it to be dramatic, and it’s not funny enough to be comedic. The film’s style tends to jump around, and the movie is less emotionally engaging as it is just watchable. That said, this is Oliver Thompson’s directorial debut, and I wouldn’t be surprised if his next movie ends up being pretty good.
Each of the characters goes through quite a bit of suffering within the movie, but it all seems a little clichéd and simply goes away because it’s convenient for the film. Throughout the film there are definitely some very cute moments, but it is about 20 minutes too long and just doesn’t say anything. Overall, Welcome to Happiness is simply far too uneven to welcome the audience to a happy experience.