Happiness For Beginners is a film that is easy to like. It has enough comedy and an easy romance and doesn’t go too deep into other topics for our focus to be split or for us to think too much about things. Whether the film justifies its name or not is a matter of debate, depending on what you expect from it and what your own perspective of Helen’s happiness is, so to gain better clarity on that, this is a recap of it.
Why Is Helen Looking For Happiness?
Since we have assumed that Helen is the beginner to happiness, we need to try and understand what makes her so sad, to begin with. When Helen was a 6-year-old child, she lost her brother Nathan, who was a year younger than her. She had wanted to stay in the house, and he had wanted to go watch the boats, and when Helen’s preferred activity had gotten the vote, Nathan had simply snuck out, which had led to the tragedy. Helen probably blames herself a little for that day because, had she been up for some adventure, maybe she and the elders could have accompanied her brother, and he would have been alive. In fact, it was his death that caused their entire family to fall apart. Her other brother, Duncan, was often very sick, and Helen’s mother was unable to carry the emotional burden of taking care of him while dealing with the death of another child. Their father had not wanted to be a part of a family that was no longer happy, and once he left them, the kids’ mother dropped them off at their grandmother’s house and has not returned since.
We don’t know how far apart in age Duncan and Helen are, but she treats him like a child and doesn’t take a lot of his opinions into consideration or even bother to ask why he feels that way. It has something to do with the fact that she believes that she has suffered more because of their parents’ divorce and abandonment, while he completely skipped that because of his age and sickness at that time. Therefore, she doesn’t consider him to be as mature as she is. You know how sometimes people adopt the very personality that people try to use against them (remember Tyrion Lannister), so they become more stubborn with how they are, only to annoy the other person? We suspect that Duncan does something like that with Helen, and that is why he puts on a constantly laughing, immature act in front of her, just to annoy her further.
When they all grow up, and Helen is getting married to Mike, Duncan tells her his opinion that he isn’t good for her, but she doesn’t listen. When they get divorced five years later, Mike admits that he took their marriage rather lightly. We got the idea that he wanted a second chance from her, but Helen wanted to move on. She has decided to enjoy nature and make progress in life by getting some sort of hiking certificate. That is why she registers for a days-long trek with a hiking group whose leader, Beckett, is instantly put off by her delicate yet grumpy ways.
Helen could deal with that, but she wasn’t expecting Jake, her brother’s childhood friend, to join her on the trip. It is clear to the audience from the beginning that he likes her, but Helen insists on hating him because she finds him to be “unreasonable” because of his recent adventurous choices after quitting a stable job as a doctor. It is a while before Helen discovers that Jake has been losing his eyesight, which is why he had to quit his job, and he is trying to do everything he wanted to but couldn’t because he got caught up with life. Jake doesn’t have a lot of time before life becomes more difficult for him, and he is making the most of it.
It’s not that we don’t like love stories, but we don’t like the fact that a movie with this premise and a certain promise has ended as a love story. Helen meets some very beautiful people who genuinely like and respect her. She could have learned things from them or even from the ones who were not on the front foot with their personal development, like Mason. In fact, we would have said that had Hugh been given the right kind of screen time, he could have been a very relatable character who could have offered some zany insights into the whole situation. But the writer just seemed to want a love story. We want to reiterate that we have not read the book that this movie is derived from, so when we say “writer,” we mean that of the film.
If the book had indeed focused more on self-love and the movie Happiness For Beginners is not a faithful adaptation, then it has done a disservice by sidelining self-love and self-sufficiency for romance. Sure, Helen displays remarkable level-headedness and great judgment when she helps Hugh through his injury. In fact, it is a great way to highlight the difference between her and Mason, who is the one we would have assumed to have the leadership skills, but he crumbled in the face of a crisis and was unable to work with a team, unlike Helen, who really came through for everyone.
How Does Helen Get Together With Jake In The End?
We suppose Helen first met Jake at her wedding. He tells her at the end of the movie Happiness For Beginners that he has wanted to be in a relationship with her for a long time. This means that he had a crush on her during the time he said she used to be fun. Maybe he even fell in love with her to some degree but obviously never told her or approached her. Even Helen doesn’t hold him in high regard, but when she is forced to be with him on her hiking trip, he inevitably takes up her attention, be it in the form of medical help or just seeing a different side of him.
Windy has a crush on him, and when she calls him attractive, Helen is forced to wonder whether he is actually that attractive because she has never seen him in that light before. When she comes to know the reason behind his decisions and recognizes his care and concern for her, she is initially defensive and taken aback but comes to finally see that he is a well-wisher, one she did not know she had. When she finally finds that she is able to open up to him about Nathan, it had to have been a surprise for her that there was a person here who not only cared to listen and tell her that it was not her fault but also reminded her that Duncan was an equal victim. Maybe the comfort and attachment are what allowed her to question him about whether he was involved with Windy.
Jake rightly tells her that she is acting jealous, though he exhibits the green goblin himself by reminding her how she is still talking to her ex-husband. As the movie comes to a close, Helen finds that she is unable to stay back longer because she is growing more jealous of Jake and Windy and the fact that he has someone back home. She doesn’t know it yet, but that someone is her. When she gets back and reads the poem he gave her, she knows that he kept away from Windy for her. While Helen waits for him to return, she makes up with her brother and promises to have a better relationship with him going forward. In Happiness For Beginners’ ending, Jake returns to Helen, and they end up kissing, signifying that they are together now.
Happiness For Beginners was a good story, but it should not have been a love story. However, its simple treatment probably meant that not much else was possible. If self-love is what we want, maybe a rewatch of Eat, Pray, Love or the Indian film Queen is preferable. Until then, this is another average but well-done love story.