H Is for Happiness
Optimistic tween shows why being different is extraordinary.
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H Is for Happiness
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that H Is for Happiness is a winning Australian family comedy about a 12-year-old girl who's trying to return her grief-stricken family to a happy, functional place after a tragic loss. Based on Barry Jonsberg's book My Life Is an Alphabet, it centers on 12-year-old Candice Phee (Daisy Axon), who describes herself as "a literal," meaning that she only understands language literally. She says more than once that she's not autistic, but some of her behaviors and speech patterns do suggest that she's neurodivergent. She's consistently optimistic and resilient, even in the face of cruel bullying (other kids call her "S. N.," short for "special needs") and her mother's deep depression. Both Candice and her friend Doug (Wesley Patten) take drastic and potentially life-threatening actions in the film, although there's no apparent suicidal intent, and neither suffers lasting consequences. Candice and Doug's friendship escalates into romance, which includes kissing. Candice is anxious for her breasts to grow, and at one point Doug gives her an inflatable bra as a gift. On the positive representation front, Doug and his mother are Indigenous Australian, and Candice's male friend dresses as a woman in one scene, without comment. Mild language includes "loser" and "crap," and adults drink sparkling wine to celebrate. Prescription anti-depressant medication is taken on camera and referred to as "happy pills."
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What's the Story?
H IS FOR HAPPINESS follows optimistic. quirky 12-year-old Candice Phee (Daisy Axon) as she's given a school assignment to define her life with a letter from the alphabet. Her mother (Emma Booth) is in a deep depression, her father (Richard Roxburgh) is distracted with work, and the family doesn't have a lot of money. That's in sharp contrast to Candice's doting "rich Uncle Brian" (Joel Jackson), as she calls him; how he earned his fortune has caused a family rift, one that Candice wants to resolve. With her new friend Doug Benson (Wesley Patten) -- who says he's really from another dimension and is trying to return -- Candice tries creative approaches to mend difficult relationships at school and at home. The movie was adapted from Barry Jonsberg's award-winning YA novel My Life Is an Alphabet.
Is It Any Good?
John Sheedy's adaptation of Jonsberg's award-winning YA novel is different from mainstream film fare -- so much so that it takes a little getting used to. (Maybe it should have been called U for Unusual, Unpredictable, and Uplifting?) But then again, so does the film's marvelously quirky protagonist, Candice. She's dealing with more than a child should: Her despondent mom can barely get out of bed, her dad is absorbed with his work and his anger at his brother for putting him in a cash-strapped position, her classmates target and taunt her, she has an important school project due, a friend has a worrisome approach to solving a problem, and she's discovering what it's like to have a boyfriend. Add in a magical Shetland pony, elaborate discussions about string theory, a hunkering to travel to Nashville, and it feels like the plot is constantly spinning in different directions. But, wait for it: By the film's Unexpected ending, all the storylines tie together with a happy little bow. The plot isn't Unorganized, it's Undulating.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the meaning of the line, "You sing your own song, pumpkin, and you dance your own dance." What makes you different? How can you embrace your differences when society often seems to want to make everyone behave the same way?
How does Candice demonstrate perseverance, kindness, thoughtfulness, and courage in H Is for Happiness? Why are these important character strengths? How does her lack of concern about social norms free her to be a clear communicator -- and how does it also stop her communication from being well received? Is she a role model? Why, or why not?
What is string theory? The concept of parallel universes? Do you think these theories are real? What do you think you and your family might be doing in an alternate reality?
Why do you think the filmmakers decided to have Candice demonstrate speech and behavior patterns that are associated with autism and yet have her deny that she has a neurological difference? Does it matter that the filmmakers choose to leave her diagnosis ambiguous?
How did you feel about Candice's warm embrace of Jen Marshall? What do we learn about Jen as a result? Why do you think those who bully others lift themselves up by tearing others down? What should you do if you or someone else is being bullied?
- In theaters: August 11, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: September 18, 2020
- Cast: Daisy Axon, Wesley Patten, Emma Booth
- Director: John Sheedy
- Studio: Samuel Goldwyn Films
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Book Characters, Friendship, Great Girl Role Models
- Character Strengths: Communication, Courage, Perseverance
- Run time: 98 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: February 25, 2023
Our Editors Recommend
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P.S. I Love You
Tragic romance is too intense for younger kids.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Drama about child's 9/11 loss stirs up sadness.
Offbeat dark fantasy gem is intense, sometimes scary.
For kids who love films with great girl role models
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