Boardgames and Liaisons Spread the Joy in "Happy, Happy"

One miserable couple collides with another in the cringe comedy Happy, Happy, a prizewinner at Sundance and Norway's official submission for the foreign-language-film Oscar. Kaja (Agnes Kittelsen), a chipper teacher of German and "arts and crafts" at a local junior high, lives to please her disengaged closet-case husband, Eirik (Joachim Rafaelsen), and their casually cruel son, Theodor. Enter the new tenants of the house across the way. A pair of introductory board-game nights later and to her surprise, Kaja has initiated a stealth affair (improbably, given the close quarters) with Sigve (Henrik Rafaelsen), the husband of Elisabeth (Maibritt Saerens), a lawyer of Danish extraction whose own infidelity motivated the country retreat. While they all sneak about, young Theodor taunts Noa, Elisabeth and Sigve's Ethiopian adopted son, into playing a game of "slave." Director Anne Sewitsky, in her feature debut, also periodically cuts to an off-site chorus of a Nordic quartet lip-synching American spirituals directly into the camera. (Kaja's Christmas-concert "Amazing Grace" solo is also an important plot point.) Perhaps Sewitsky, working from a screenplay by Ragnhild Tronvoll, means to underscore that this is a story about overcoming prejudices to gain self-respect; perhaps she's just going for gleefully un-PC quirk. Either way, the questionable black-historical shorthand detracts from what is otherwise a well-performed and fitfully amusing film.

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