‘H Is for Happiness’ Review: Using Fuss to Fight Off a Funk

The Australian children’s film “H Is for Happiness” takes as its heroine a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 12-year-old who is the kind of student to correct the vocabulary of her teacher, the sort whose raised hand inspires sighs from her classmates. Candice (Daisy Axon) doesn’t seem to mind some rolled eyes — she knows life isn’t a picnic, but she is determined to face it with cheer.

Home presents Candice with her hardest obstacles to happiness. The death of Candice’s sister has driven her mother (Emma Booth) into a depression, and though her parents remain together, Candice’s father (Richard Roxburgh) has disengaged. He is plagued by financial concerns, and a business beef has soured his relationship with Candice’s wealthy uncle (Joel Jackson), who might be able to help. Candice faces her family’s dysfunction with the same willful optimism. Aided by a new classmate, Douglas (Wesley Patten), whose fall from a tree has granted him a gift for magical, multidimensional thinking, Candice devises ways to drag her family out of its funk.

The director John Sheedy crafts a world for Candice to occupy that is as bright and colorful as her outlook. “H Is for Happiness” is a whimsically designed film, with colors popping from the wallpaper, shopkeepers dressed in circus clothes, and references to Dolly Parton songs. Its meticulous visuals do frequently tip into preciousness, yet this cuteness is offset by the movie’s refreshingly direct take on depression and despair. This unusual children’s film may be fussy, but to its credit, it is not frivolous.

H Is for Happiness
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 38 minutes. Rent or buy on iTunes, Vudu and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.

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