The Happiest Place on Earth
The Happiest Place on Earth starts out like we've seen in this type of story many times in the past, but it's powerful ending makes up for that with a shocking twist.
Today’s film is the 2015 award winning independent drama The Happiest Place on Earth written, directed and produced by John Goshorn. Starring Jennifer Faith Ward, Tom Kemnitz jr. and Marco DiGeorge.
The Happiest Place on Earth tells the tale of young couple Jonah (Tom Kemnitz Jr.), a newspaper graphic designer and his wife Maggie (Jennifer Faith Ward), a daycare teacher as they buy a new home together. Everything seems to be going well for the two and they are even considering starting a family together when cut backs at work cause Jonah to lose his position. This spells trouble for the two as they can no longer afford to pay the mortgage on the new home and through the weeks Jonah is unable to find work despite numerous applications due to the dying market of newspapers and the over saturation of applicants. Maggie attempts to pick up the slack by taking on waitress jobs to help supplement their income but the stress of the oncoming debt strains the young couples relationship. After a particularly humiliating interview Jonah takes his wife’s advice and goes on a camping trip to the beach to unwind but when his date of return comes and goes Maggie becomes worried and the police find his kayak abandoned as well as his tent near the ocean. Distraught Maggie finds out that Jonah had recently taken out a half million dollar life insurance policy leaving her soul beneficiary, despite this she refuses to believe he is dead and hopes beyond hope that he comes back while the dept continues to mount and her family urges her to move on.
Right off the bat the irony of the title of The Happiest Place on Earth is felt full force. The Happiest Place on Earth is a very dark and depressing tale that hold many real world parallels with the recent job and housing crisis that left many destitute and desperate. In this way the film really succeeds in showing how hard and terrible life can be just when things were starting to look up and how unprepared most of us are, however that is where the positives of the story end. I can’t remember a film that I have watched that manages to hit every single cliché and stereotype in a genre as thoroughly as The Happiest Place on Earth does. When trouble hits for the family Maggie starts to give Jonah ultimatums and is thoroughly antagonistic and unsympathetic to his plight, In return Jonah is the angry sullen man that you see all to often in these situations on the big screen. With the addition of the disapproving and meddling mother it is almost as if you were watching a daytime soap opera instead of a fairly well budgeted independent film. For the first hour of the film you are treated to this predictable plot that you see in pretty much every other drama of this type that you might almost be tempted to turn it off, however that would be a major mistake. Toward the end of the film there are two major plot twists that really bring the film back around to entertaining and was well worth the hour of mind numbing cliché you have to sit through to get to, I won’t spoil it for you but suffice to say that even I had no idea that it was going to go down like that.
The acting in the film is pretty much like the rest of the production, a mixed bag. While the principle actors of the film Jennifer Faith Ward and Tom Kemnitz Jr are no stranger to the silver screen their performances are really hit and miss. Both of them during the film show great range and depth to their characters in places and really bring these two people to life but then they fall flat and seem almost wooden in their performances in few scenes later. This really is the case with Jennifer Ward who during the happy scenes manages to pull it off convincingly but when the major drama hits she just seems blank and unfeeling despite the high intensity of a scene. The truly best performance was by Marco DiGeorge who played Evan Sterling the lawyer. His character had quite a bit of depth and his acting never seemed forced giving the character a genuine feeling that is sometime lacking in Maggie and Jonah.
The production value of the film is quite strange for something that cost over ten thousand dollars to produce. The Cinematography is a mixed bag of good and bad traits, the biggest problem is the utterly unnecessary shaky cam effects. Throughout the entire film each scene has this most annoying screen wobble that really distracts you from the story of the film. I wish we could go back in time to the 90’s and stop this horrible trend from ever taking root in the film industry, it adds nothing to a feature and to me is the hallmark of a very amateurish attempt at film making. The camera gives a very claustrophobic view of the action around them with close ups of the character’s faces to the point where sometimes the characters are nearly out of frame and when the film is dark you can barely see what is going on, given that nearly the entire film takes place at night this becomes a serious problem for the viewer.
The audio work like the cinematography is very much a hit or miss situation. The actor’s voices in several places can barely be heard even with headphones and your sound turned to max, this is truly unfortunate as this is a dialog heavy film. Not only does the microphone cut out in several places but also picks up static and ambient noise that could have been taken care of in post if they didn’t have time to reshoot the scenes. While the soundtrack of the film is thematically appropriate for the genre of film the one unfortunate part of it is that the background music often drowns out the voices of the characters and really takes away from the film instead of adding to it’s ambiance.
When all is said and done The Happiest Place on Earth is dark little story that has been told before many times by directors in the past but has just enough of a surprise ending to offer up something new and entertaining. With some technical flaws both in the production and in the acting at just over 81 minutes the film might not be what you are looking for, however you can get past these issues the shocking end might just redeem it for you as it did for me.
Justin’s Notes – This is an awesome “slow burner” movie with an amazing payoff at the end. None of us expected it and we thought we were sitting through another rendition of the spoiled happy couple story. By the time we got to the end of the film, we had to do a double-take and ask ourselves did we really see what we just saw. I love films like this and I’m gonna bump it up another star, just cause of the ending!