Welcome to Happiness (2015)
★★★★ / ★★★★
A picture like “Welcome to Happiness,” written and directed by Oliver Thompson, will likely fail to hold up under scrutiny, at least under the standards of what makes a film palatable for the mainstream audience. It is weird in just about every definition of the word, from its story, the structure of the plot, the way it is told, how it ends. It is not impressive when it comes to dialogue, how it is shot, or how it looks. And yet I loved how it made me feel.
The plot revolves around a writer named Woody (Kyle Gallner) who is having trouble continuing his current book about a cat that is not at all curious despite the common saying. But the storyteller is most curious. He is given the task to let strangers who have hit rock bottom into his apartment when they knock on the door, to ask them questions, and to eventually lead them to his closet. Inside the closet is a small door that opens—and can only be opened from the other side—when the stranger is finally alone. No matter how hard Woody tries, the door does not open for him. He wishes to know why this is the case. And this increasing curiosity leads him to desperation.
Notice that each room we visit almost always has two things: paintings and books. But they are just not any other painting or book—the type of paintings and books varies depending on the person who owns them. Also, their numbers differ based on their owner’s income. Some of them are placed or hung near the floor, while others cannot be reached so easily without a stool or a ladder. Words and pictures dominate these characters’ lives. The more we get to know them, we can choose to categorize them under either tribe. Some of us may ask ourselves where we fall in the spectrum, words on one extreme and pictures on the other.
The material is interested in how its characters define happiness. Is happiness being with another person? Being with one’s most prized possessions? Being with oneself and his hobbies? Her passions? Is happiness creating something that the world can appreciate? Is happiness to forgive, to move on, to never look back? Or is happiness having the ability to fix or erase the unjust? I admired that the material asks big questions and more questions than any one movie can possibly handle. I think the point is neither to answer nor to probe deeply into them but rather to look inside ourselves and evaluate our priorities, our philosophies.
“Welcome to Happiness” will likely appeal to those with a taste for the bizarre. I can talk about well-written and well-executed scenes like the mysterious opening sequence or when Woody asks an amputee to go inside the closet so she can experience something that will change her life. I can talk about how vibrant colors are utilized as both metaphor or irony. I can talk about solid performances by Gallner as a tortured writer or by Brendan Sexton III as his character recalls his biggest regret. But I choose not to. And choice is, I think, the point of the film.