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Review: ‘Welcome to Happiness’ fails to amuse amid all its sadness

Chauntal Lewis, left, Kyle Gallner and Olivia Thirlby star in "Welcome to Happiness."
(FilmBuff)

Writer/director Oliver Thompson’s feature debut, “Welcome to Happiness,” a magical story of grief, fate and emotional healing, could be described as an earnest yet whimsical take on Spike Jonze’s “Being John Malkovich,” with an aesthetic heavily inspired by the stylized, fantastical oeuvre of Jean-Pierre Jeunet (“Amelie”). But, why is it that cutesy quirkiness is just more palatable in French?

Children’s book author Woody (Kyle Gallner) lives in an unusual apartment in which the closet contains a mystical portal. Woody is tasked with ushering in strangers summoned to his door to find happiness or closure of some sort, though he hasn’t yet been invited inside.

The film could be amusing, but it’s just too sad, with the characters grappling with the deaths of loved ones, criminal acts they’ve committed and terrible accidents. The jealousy Woody feels at seeing the others move on and his desire to overcome his parents’ tragic death eats at him, interfering with his work and relationships.

The emotional core of the story — even if it is articulated in therapy-speak — does come through, despite the many stylistic and narrative distractions. The soundtrack, however, is overly busy, overwhelming the story beats, while a subplot featuring Keegan-Michael Key as an eccentric rare baseball card collector feels cut in from a completely different movie. Nick Offerman pops up as the wise, kindly landlord, and Olivia Thirlby is mostly wasted as a neighbor with whom Woody has a romantic connection.

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While its heart is in the right place, “Welcome to Happiness” is too fixated on its twee peccadilloes to truly succeed.

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‘Welcome to Happiness’

Not rated

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Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Noho 7, North Hollywood; and Vintage Los Feliz 3


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