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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Aug 3, 2023




‘HAPPINESS FOR BEGINNERS’ is the kind of streaming movie that critics will quickly dismiss as a run of the mill romance but, we watched it on Netflix, and we honestly find it quite an engaging and endearing romcom.  

It’s predictable, yes, and you can easily see the lead characters will eventually end up with each other, but it’s their journey going to the foregone conclusion that really counts. 

Adapted from a novel by Katherine Center and directed by Vicky Wight, the story focuses on Helen (Ellie Kemper, best known for sitcoms “The Office” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”), a teacher who just got divorced from her husband who continues to cling to her.

She is also still suffering from the trauma of the death of her brother from drowning when she was 6 years old.

To help rid herself of bad memories and clear her mind, she joins a hiking and camping trip to help reset her life.

The hike is about 80 miles on the Appalachian Trail that spans Connecticut and New York. 

She takes it along with a bunch of quirky strangers whose silliness provides some of the film’s hilarity. 

She means to connect with nature but her objective is to rise up from her own ashes like “a freaking phoenix.” 

She is surprised to find someone she knows in the group, Jake (Luke Grimes, seen in the Kevin Costner drama series, “Yellowstone”)

Jake is the best friend of her brother, Duncan (Alexander Koch), who she has been ignoring as he attended her wedding then and disapproved of her husband. 

It’s obvious they started on the wrong foot and Helen tells Jake to stay away from her during their hike.

Among the other hikers in the group is the funny Hugh (Pinoy actor Nico Santos, “Crazy Rich Asians” and the sitcom “Superstore”) and their younger but competent tour guide is Beckett (Ben Cook, “Pretty Little Liars”), who has so many demanding rules and regulations. 

Hiking requires outdoor survival skills and Helen is not really prepared for it so even before the hike started, she already meets an accident and gashes her leg on a sharp rock.

It’s good Jake is a doctor and treats her. Jake is actually no longer practicing his profession and we’ll find out later the reason why.

As the hiker gets to know one another better, Helen gets to reflect on her own past unfortunate experiences and learns how to deal with new challenges, like when Nico figures in an accident that breaks his leg, she becomes the hero who gets help and saves him. 

She also starts to interact with Jake more kindly and they open up to each other like never before. 

They get to work through their dark personal issues and old negative feelings, in the process becoming warmer in dealing with each other.

There are no surprises or twists offered at the end of the film but it is not really that formulaic and there’s enough to enjoy along the way. 

The cast is likeable and the performances are all charming, with Blythe Danner (the mother of Gwynneth Paltrow who’s 80 years old but looks much, much younger), offering delightful support as Helen’s upbeat and supportive grandmother who raised her and her brother after their parents separated.

The movie offers beautiful cinematography of the mountain trails that is filled with stunning postcard-pretty scenic locations. 

They are full of the cheerful colors of autumn that offer a sense of serenity and peacefulness great for some armchair traveling and are enough reason for watching the movie.