If a door in your home could lead you back into the past to fix your mistakes, would you enter? This is no metaphor, but the magical conceit behind Oliver Thompson’s ultimately cloying and unfocused fantasy drama Welcome to Happiness.
Kyle Gallner stars as Woody Ward, a frustrated children’s book author tasked with guarding a magical closet in his apartment that allows strangers to walk through and face their regrets. Presenting a sort of Millennial Narnia for somber white people, Welcome to Happiness conveys some interesting ideas — including what it means to appreciate even your most devastating choices — but Thompson unfortunately assembles the worst of Quirk™ to pass on these all-too-precious messages.
Lurid character names, florid expressionist set design, and a twangy, twee soundtrack may lend a whimsical tone, but lots of shiny pathos for young men does not stand in for character development. (The women fare much worse as Pretty Object of Desire, Harridan Editor, and Ethereal Assistant.) As we plod along, attempting to figure out how the sprawling ensemble players all fit together, the mystery and symbolism of what’s truly
behind the door grows less profound and more irritating.
Although these elements of affected eccentricity distract from the story, the performances prove compelling. Playing a lost writer, Gallner exudes unsettled warmth, imbuing Woody with dark humanity. Also transfixing are Brendan Sexton III as a redemptive criminal and Bess Rous as an early visitor to the magical closet.
Welcome to Happiness may be a cutesy confection, but its burnt edges maintain a trace of welcome bitterness.
Welcome to Happiness
Written and directed by Oliver Thompson
Opens May 20, Cinema Village
Available on demand