Netflix’s “Happiness For Beginners” Shares Struggles Of People | Catholic Movie Review

by Love and Relationships

One of the latest top ten movies on Netflix is Happiness for Beginners, a new release (July 27, 2023) based on the novel of the same title by Katherine Center.  The movie opens with the main character’s wedding day, Helen, and immediately the viewer has doubts about whether this marriage will last.  Helen’s divorce, finalized in the first minutes of the rom-com, becomes the reason for her soul searching adventure to go on a multi-day hike mostly composed of strangers with the exception of her brother’s best friend Jake who happens to have just signed up for the hike.  With that, you can probably write the rest of the movie. 

Happiness For Beginners Trailer

When I watch films, what I always look for is how something secular can communicate something religious.  This storyline is a classic one.  A person going through a rough time, let’s call it a mid-life crisis, goes on a path to find deeper meaning in their life.  In the group introductions before the hike, Helen shares about her divorce and miscarriage and her quest to learn about herself.  The secular here masquerades itself as a religious experience.  A religious plot would have put Helen on a walking pilgrimage like the El Camino de Santiago or participating in a religious retreat at a monastery.  What she would have experienced in those settings, she experiences in her own way on a secular hike. 

Helen learns from each person with whom she hikes and each person including Helen are different because of each other.  One practice a hiker introduces and recurs throughout the rest of the film is the three things for which they are grateful.  This secular practice mirrors in some ways the practice of the examen, where one looks back over the course of a day for graces or blessings. 

The Human Condition

Happiness for Beginners touches on different areas of struggle within the human condition.  As the hike unfolds, characters begin to become vulnerable to each other and character transformation begins. Helen opens up about the loss of her youngest brother and how she has coped and Jake shares his vulnerable news too. 

The very title of the movie suggests a few things.  To have happiness for beginners, means that there has been an absence of joy and sadness has been prevalent. If you are a beginner to happiness, it means that it has been foreign to you for a while.  The inner journey to happiness begins for Helen and the viewer will articulate what happiness means for them.  The secularness of the film however does not articulate happiness for the Christian, which is eternal life with God forever in Heaven.  Will Helen find happiness by the end?  You can probably already anticipate how it’s found.  What this movie will remind you, is that in the struggles you face, happiness is attainable if you keep pursuing it. 

Can a Catholic watch Happiness for Beginners? 

Some might see the movie as permissive of divorce, and Helen’s mother makes a light-hearted comment about divorce too.  Also, the secularist religion of the environment emerges in a prayer by the hiking guide to “Mother Earth” asking forgiveness for their transgressions.    

Fr. Looney’s Rating

6/10- Predictable storyline for this genre.  The movie’s value lies in showing the process of conversion and change in a person’s heart. 

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