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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.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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