Netflix’s “Happiness for Beginners” brings together the talented Ellie Kemper and a quirky ensemble cast for a lighthearted rom-com adventure. Directed by Vicky Wright, the film follows the journey of Helen, a recently divorced thirtysomething, as she embarks on a group hiking vacation with an eclectic group of hikers. While attempting to rediscover herself in nature’s embrace, Helen unexpectedly finds romance in the form of Jake, her brother’s charming doctor friend. Though the film seeks to deliver a heartfelt and pleasant experience, it occasionally struggles to find a perfect balance between comedy and romance. Nevertheless, the movie boasts endearing performances and an amiable narrative that will appeal to those seeking a gentle and heartwarming escape.
Known for her cheerful and quirky roles in shows like “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and “The Office,” Ellie Kemper gets a chance to subvert her screen persona as she takes on the role of Helen, a dour divorcee looking for a fresh start. Kemper’s versatility shines through as she infuses Helen with a sense of vulnerability and introspection, providing a compelling anchor for the film’s emotional journey. Through Helen, Kemper offers a relatable portrayal of someone trying to find themselves amid the complexities of life’s transitions.
The rom-com rules come into play as Jake (Luke Grimes), the attractive doctor, surprisingly joins Helen’s hiking trip. While Helen initially finds Jake’s presence exasperating, it becomes evident to the audience that he has more than friendship in mind. Though some may find the setup predictable, the film manages to deliver a certain charm in its earnestness to bring the two characters together.
Wright’s screenplay introduces a diverse and quirky group of hikers, each seeking their own form of personal growth amidst nature’s embrace. From the gay best friend, Hugh (Nico Santos), to the wispy space cadet, Kaylee (Gus Birney), and the laid-back dude-bro, Mason (Esteban Benito), the ensemble provides familiar stock characters that add a touch of humor and camaraderie to the narrative. Additionally, Blythe Danner’s radiant portrayal of Gigi, Helen’s beloved grandmother, adds warmth and wisdom to the overall story.
“Happiness for Beginners” grapples with finding a cohesive balance between being a rom-com and embracing the spiritual aspects of self-discovery. The film occasionally leans towards a “Eat Pray Love” approach, delving into the healing power of nature and love. While such moments offer depth, they don’t always blend seamlessly with the more comedic elements. This somewhat tentative tone shift might leave audiences wanting a more pronounced direction in the narrative.
As the story unfolds, “Happiness for Beginners” takes its time to build the characters and delve into their backstories, a commendable effort that aims for nuance. However, in doing so, the film may lose some of the larger-than-life appeal that rom-com enthusiasts often crave. The chemistry between Kemper and Grimes is charming, but it lacks the fiery passion that leaves audiences rooting for the couple to come together. While the film remains sweet and amiable, it may leave viewers yearning for a bit more passion and excitement.
“Happiness for Beginners” offers a delightful rom-com adventure led by the endearing Ellie Kemper and a talented ensemble cast. While the film is filled with heartwarming moments and charming performances, it struggles to strike a perfect balance between comedy and romance. The earnestness of the narrative may resonate with viewers seeking a gentle and thoughtful escape. However, those looking for a more whimsical and unpredictable rom-com might find “Happiness for Beginners” a little too safe and restrained. Nonetheless, the film’s overall message of self-discovery and finding love in unexpected places adds a heartening touch to this pleasant Netflix offering.