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Seattle Film Fest 2011: “Happy, Happy,” Reviewed

Seattle Film Fest 2011: “Happy, Happy,” Reviewed (photo)

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Not to paint the good people of Norway with the same brush, but if the country’s recent films are any indication, the problem of sexual dissatisfaction amongst women is making it frostier for some in the country than the usual climate in winter. Only weeks ago at the Tribeca Film Fest, Jannicke Systad Jacobsen’s “Turn Me On, Goddammit” won a screenplay prize for the story of a young woman whose openness about her horniness leads her to be ostracized from her small village, and then there’s “Happy, Happy,” Anne Sewitsky’s Sundance winner which contrary to its title deals with the discontent of two married couples in Norwegian wilderness and in particular, the sexual awakening of Kaja, a cheery housewife who, upon tiring of her husband’s rejection of her advances, winds up in the arms of another.

Although the logline may sound like it may come from the Ingmar Bergman wing of Scandinavian cinema, “Happy, Happy” leans more towards the Aki Kaurismaki corner, punctuated with musical interludes from a quartet of vocalists singing American gospel music and dispatching a gentle sense of humor throughout even if what’s happened to poor, naïve Kaja is quite tragic. A foster child who married too young after high school, Kaja is stuck in a loveless marriage to a husband (Joaquin Rafaelsen) far more interested in hunting moose and a young son who clearly prefers his pa’s company when he’s not torturing the newly arrived adopted black child of Elisabeth (Maibritt Saerens) and Sigve (Henrik Rafaelsen), the couple that’s moved in next door from the big city.

Kaja clearly admires the couple’s sophistication — upon discovering Elisabeth is an attorney, she asks in awe, “Isn’t that hard?” But she’s far more taken with the excitement they bring since her own enthusiasm has waned significantly with a family that rarely speaks to her about anything. In fact, they even have a game in the morning to drive her out of the house by staring at her intently. It’s actually during a nighttime game with Elisabeth and Sigve where Kaja’s able to exact some small revenge on her husband, confessing during an after-dinner “Couples Game” that she hasn’t had sex in a year, which combined with Elisabeth and Sigve’s admission that they’d accept their partner having an affair, sets off an interesting chain of events for both pairs.

HappyHappy2_05232011.jpgEven without the unexpected jolts of the brightly-attired men’s chorus that pops up periodically, “Happy, Happy” shines when its lead Agnes Kittelsen is on screen. As Kaja, she’d be hard to dislike as an overeager woman who simply let a bad choice metastasize into a life she only now realizes she doesn’t want, but to play the role with a dimmer switch as the light slowly drains from her eyes is much more of an accomplishment than one would think.

Yet even as Kittelsen is allowed the room to dial down her performance, Sewitsky doesn’t exactly do herself the same favor as the film makes a sharp right turn from light comedy in the first half to a more serious relationship drama in the second when infidelity rears its ugly head while trying to keep some of the more lighthearted elements in place. Instead of adding a sense of realism, the tonal shift takes something away from the loose, entertaining vibe that’s effortlessly established from the beginning, making a running gag involving Kaja’s son acting as a slavemaster to Elizabeth and Sigve’s adopted child deeply troubling, especially when there’s no real payoff, and the film’s resolution stumbles towards poignancy, though it seems as though Sewitsky felt the need to say something important to counterbalance the film’s silliness.

Cultural differences may contribute to the film’s feeling of unevenness as it travels abroad, but it’s interesting to note that both “Happy, Happy” and the aforementioned “Turn Me On, Goddammit” were directed by first-time directors who may overcompensate with quirk to sneak in some genuinely provocative heroines who take control over their own destiny. In both cases, it’s arguable that the filmmakers share the confidence issues of their protagonists, a product of inexperience and wispy plotting, though likewise, each claims a small victory in simply breaking away from the pack. Clearly, coming out of the cold means more than just the snow outside in “Happy, Happy” and the warmth of Sewitsky’s debut drifts in as a welcome breeze.

“Happy, Happy” currently does not have U.S. distribution. It will play the Seattle Film Festival tonight at 8:30.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.