A man sits alone near a fireplace and puts a gun in his mouth. Somewhere else a beautiful red-headed woman gets ready to eat dinner with an eccentric rich man, with an appetite for strange purchases. Still elsewhere an old British couple fiddles with scientific instruments in a white room. In the room there is a table. On the table, a single red button. Further off in a children’s book writer’s apartment a printer springs to life and prints out three questions. I can understand director Oliver Thompson’s reticence in not explaining how all these subplots relate to each other until about the 50 minute mark in his new movie Welcome to Happiness. The gradual revealing of the mystery is what makes the film ultimately so rewarding and enjoyable to watch. But I fear it may prove fatally disorienting to some viewers. It certainly frustrated me more than once.
The most fascinating part of Welcome to Happiness is how it constructs its own bizarre little mythology, with its own rules. There’s a tiny door in a nondescript apartment which opens every now and then for people who, for one reason or another, have ended up there. Going inside allows them to change one decision or action in their past, irrevocably changing the course of their lives. The apartment has a guard—the aforementioned writer Woody (Kyle Gallner), an amiable doof frustrated that the closet refuses to open for him. He has a mysterious landlord, named Moses (Nick Offerman), who oversees the entire process and who has all the trappings of a Magic Negro, except for the necessary melanin. The actual method by which occupants are “selected” is circuitous and handled with the right amount of ambiguity. One of the film’s strengths is how it convinces us that we are only witnessing a tiny portion of something much larger.
I recently watched Richard Curtis’ About Time (2013), another film with an unusual time-travel gimmick. Both films amazed me with how they used their absurd premises as springboards for fairly deep, devastating and, eventually, life-affirming explorations of loss, grief, happiness and love. But where About Time frames its shenanigans in the real world, Welcome to Happiness strives to create one of its own. Therefore, even though I admit that on a technical level About Time may be superior, I found Welcome to Happiness much more interesting and vital.
Some might be put off that I’ve revealed so much of the mystery behind Welcome to Happiness, but I’ve only presented you with the film’s tools. What it does with those tools is up for you to discover.