Welcome to Happiness is more interested in being cutesy than being satisfying. The film from first-time writer-director Oliver Thompson, with bouncy songs backing every single scene, a magic door, and mystical figures offering big-grinned life guidance, is basically an extended self-help commercial masquerading as a movie. The movie is about a children’s book author, and Welcome to Happiness feels like a child’s understanding of morality and forgiveness—and for adults, it’s not that enlightening.
The door has no handle, and Woody has never seen the door open from the other side. But the strangers will always end up going through it, and Woody will never see them again. It’s a strange responsibility to have, and Woody has never wondered what the door does, but he trusts his landlord Moses (Nick Offerman), so he does it.
Aside from the Woody storyline, there are two others being told during Welcome to Happiness: One focuses on an orphan, Ripley (Josh Brener), still living in his parents’ mansion after they were murdered during a break-in years before. He meets the self-hating Niles (Brendan Sexton III) when he agrees to buy a rare baseball card Niles is selling, and Ripley then puts Niles in contact with Proctor (Keegan-Michael Key), an eccentric weirdo who then pushes Niles in Woody’s direction.
That mentality obviously trivializes individual pain, but those are the kind of platitudes Welcome to Happiness traffics in with a cherry smile. “The spider web of cause and effect is infinite” and “Live with what you did” are some of the lines thrown around as coping mechanisms, and by the time the film ends in a bona fide sing-along around a campfire, Welcome to Happiness feels like it’s settled on a simplistic self-help ideology instead of putting in the work to advance its characters.
At one point, Woody has to ask Niles, “I’m happy, true or false?” and Niles replies “Does that mean you or me?” That kind of existential wondering is what makes Welcome to Happiness unique, but its precious approach to grief and recovery overwhelms any nuance the script may have.
Rating: 2 out of 5 Guttenbergs