The latest Netflix romantic comedy, Happiness For Beginners, is now streaming, but should you give it a watch?
Emmy-nominated actress Ellie Kemper (The Office, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) turns the volume down on her more quirky, yet delightful character set she is known for and heads to the woods for the new Netflix rom-com, Happiness For Beginners.
Based on the novel of the same name by Katherine Center, the story focuses on newly divorced Helen (Kemper) who decides she needs a life reset and signs up for the “adventure of a lifetime” in the form of a backcountry survival course hiking the Appalachian Trail with a group of oddball strangers.
From the outset, Helen’s plan to be the best hiker on the trip is tested with a surprise appearance from her younger brother’s best friend, Jake (played by “Yellowstone” actor Luke Grimes); add in several mistakes, accidents, and frustrations and you have an extremely rocky road to self-discovery.
The movie is adapted for the screen & directed by Irish helmer Vicky Wight, whose previous film, 2020’s straight-to-VOD effort The Lost Husband, was also an adaptation of a Katherine Center book based around a female character who turns to nature as a means of putting her life back on track after a major life event.
While The Lost Husband delves more into the dramatic following the death of a spouse & father, Happiness For Beginners remains mostly light on its feet as the story dances between snarky quips, eccentric accidents, petty disputes, & the occasional reveal of some major life tragedy that would send most people over the edge. But when it’s delivered in a mostly benign package of beautiful people covered in Patagonia living in a “beach read” novel, the drama gets sucked out pretty easily.
As for the romantic entanglements, Happiness For Beginners falls into an endless display of genre tropes & failed character arcs with forced chemistry that barely registers. Helen has known Jake for a very long time, but she barely recognizes his existence. When he does a creep move and encroaches on her personal journey, they mostly nitpick and argue from one extremely personal, unearned attack to the next.
“He’s more of a quitter than a doctor … He’s a grown man studying whales. It’s like he’s 8 years old.” This is an actual quote from Helen in regards to how she sees Jake over a third of the way into the movie and it doesn’t get much better for the majority of the film. The only reasons why these characters bond in any fashion is over horrendous suffering in Helen’s past and Luke’s uncertain future, which is not a basis for a relationship nor that compelling from an audience perspective especially when thrust upon in a thinly veiled exposition dump speech.
While the rom & the com didn’t really work for me, I think the most baffling part is the true lack of self-discovery and personal growth on the part of Helen. She has massive trauma and abandonment issues in her past that have drifted into her present with her resentment of her brother. While her relationship with Duncan appears to be moving forward in a positive direction in some part to Luke, it is astounding that she spends more time wondering why Luke is even at her hiking retreat and not spending more time working with the character of Windy who has a Master’s Degree in Psychology and researches how and why people are happy. We get 1 ½ conversations about this between the two characters and they barely alter who Helen becomes. This movie seems to be more into having its audiences become better hikers & campers than it does bettering the life of its protagonist.
Overall, Happiness For Beginners works better as scenery than psychology. Helen and her journey seem to take a backseat to a very slow budding relationship with a person with whom she has very little chemistry and emotional connection. As a person who has taken to the Connecticut wilderness many times in my own Walden way to clear my mind and work on myself, I found this movie wanting, thin, and miscast. We can only hope for a serious rebound in the rom-com department for Netflix as 2023 has really not produced any winners in this genre.
Watch Happiness for Beginners If You Like
- The Lost Husband
- A Tourist’s Guide To Love
- Eat Pray Love
- Falling Inn Love
- A Walk in the Woods
- A Perfect Pairing
MVP of Happiness for Beginners
Hiking Trips in the New England Wilderness!
As a native to New England who loves to go hiking, I will always be a sucker for luscious scenery & autumn colors. While I won’t take much away from this story, I could always get lost in the expansive overhead shots of beautiful lakes & forestry. Taking a hike sounds great after a stroll through mediocrity.
PLAY, PAUSE, OR STOP?
With bland TV movie quality and very few moments of connection or introspection, even the most die-hard rom-com fan should skip this one.