Dances With Films Review: Welcome to Happiness


If you could change one choice you’ve made in the past, would you? That’s the central question posed by “Welcome to Happiness,” a whimsy and visual fantasy film that looks at how we deal with regrets.

The film follows Woody (Kyle Gallner), a children’s book author and gatekeeper to a one-way door in his closet that transports strangers to an unknown place. In the opening scene we see a woman named Leah arrive at Woody’s apartment, unsure of why she’s there. To determine whether she can enter, Woody conducts a brief interview with questions sent through a typewriter set up by his landlord, Moses (Nick Offerman). He shows her to the door, which will open only if she meets unspecified standards. While at first Woody seems content being the gatekeeper to a mystery passageway, that calm is shattered when he runs into Leah again on the street a few weeks later and asks her where the door leads. She tells him that on the other side you’re given the opportunity to undo a mistake you’ve made in the past. The information, and his new relationship with his neighbor, Trudy (Olivia Thirlby) triggers a downward spiral, one which leaves Woody obsessing over why he hasn’t been allowed to pass through. He has his regrets and surely he was a better person than many who were allowed in.

As the film continues Woody’s story intertwines with two other characters, Nyles (Brendan Sexton III) and Ripley (Josh Brener). Nyles is a suicidal artist who discovers his dad’s baseball memorabilia might be worth something, and Ripley is a lonely collector. All three men are struggling to move on from the turns their lives have taken, until chance encounters –that are kind of pushed together by Moses and Procter, played by Keegan-Michael Key, cause their paths to cross in the way of the mysterious closet. When the place beyond the door is finally revealed, the characters are able to make peace with their circumstances and the decisions they’ve made.

“Welcome to Happiness” leaves audiences with a simple message –perhaps the path to happiness is as simple (or as difficult) as accepting what life has thrown your way. Writer and director Oliver Thompson navigates the Wes-Anderson style film with ease. Where the film could have taken a cheesy sugarcoat, Thompson was able to deliver a quirky upbeat film, with intrinsic dark tones that are present in everyday life.

The art direction in the film is exceptional. Each set is so beautifully composed you’ll wish the camera panned longer on certain shots so you could take all the details in, but Woody’s apartment is where the production design really shines. The mural gracing Woody’s living room wall functions almost as a secondary character, seeming to react and change in relation to the events of the film and adding to the air of magic surrounding the apartment.

Welcome to Happiness premiered in Los Angeles at the Dances With Films Festival on June 7, 2015

Written & Directed By Oliver Thompson

Starring: Kyle Gallner, Brendan Sexton III, Josh Brener

Grade: A

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