“Saturday-night women who stand out on Sunday morning”
The essence of Danielle Luchetti’s Italian comedy Ordinary Happiness (2019) is enclosed in the film’s original title, Momenti di Trascurabile Felicità – literally, “moments of negligible happiness”. The film is based on Francesco Piccolo’s 2010 novel of the same name. Coincidentally released the same year as Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story (2019), the film presents a humorous take on a similar issue.
Paolo (Pif), a negligent father to his two kids Aurora (Angelica Alleruzzo) and Filippo (Francesco Giammarco), and a frustrating husband to his overworked wife Agata (Thony), dies in a traffic accident as a result of his daredevil approach to life. Luckily, thanks to a mistake in the system, he is allowed to return to Earth from the afterlife for 92 minutes. Accompanied by the wise old man responsible for the error (Renato Carpentieri), Paolo hurries to say his goodbyes – simultaneously strolling down memory lane in a bid to fix his life’s wrongdoings.
The film deals with the topic of death and personal fulfillment, blurring the line between fantasy and screeching reality. Oftentimes unpolished and rusty, the plot seems all the more acute. Bare. The colourful close-ups tightly frame our protagonists, enabling us to share the same breath as them – whether we want to or not. Paolo, though inept in many ways and constantly challenging our sense of righteous morality, presents an absurdly childish approach to life. Through the sacrifice of his likeability, we get a shot by shot exhibition of one’s flaws, without any fluff or context – hardly a pretty thing to witness.
In many ways, Ordinary Happiness finds glee in the dissection of a crumbling father. It’s a study of a wasted life wandering throught time, hopping in and out of a state of light-hearted absurdity – including the breaking of the fourth wall. Thony’s award-winning acting explodes onto the screen, rattling its frame. On the other hand, Pif’s stompy performance matches his character’s sense of confusion, making Paolo seem all the more tolerable. After all, he keeps taking the wrong exit on the road to finding some balance in a long-term relationship – a topic which is painfully relatable to most. Therefore, we are constantly rooting for him, perhaps doing exactly what the film set out to achieve – force us to search for an equilibrium between the good and the bad in people. By seizing the essence of a dishevelled household, which is as eclectic as it is utterly mundane, we are reminded that worrying about wasting time often leads to choices that drain our whole lives of the little time they come with.
The film presents a twist that may seem predictable to many, but essential to most. After all, subtle humour walks hand in hand with tragedy in this Italian comedy. As a reminder, most scenes are stripped of music, feeding us organically raw words that scratch and tear through the mind. As a result, our perception of time is trumphantly challenged – particularly our distorted conviction of its abundance. As comical as it is profound, the film sizzles with vehement relatability.
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