Happiness For Beginners is a romantic comedy that is heartwarming and, though a little predictable, leaves you excited for the outcome.
A year after her divorce Helen Carpenter (Ellie Kemper) lets her younger brother talk her into signing up for a wilderness survival course. It’s supposed to be a chance to come back from her failed marital disaster, but when she discovers that her brother’s equally frustrating friend Jake is also joining along on the trip she can’t imagine how it will be anything other than an utter earthquake.
It starts off as a journey of self-discovery for Helen. A phoenix rising through the ashes to find herself again after a disastrous attempt at a future with the man that wasn’t right for her. Her brother Duncan (Alexander Koch) never thought he was right for her from day one, and neither did Jake (Luke Grimes), his best friend from High School since the eighth grade. We see Blyth Danner as the fun-loving grandmother of Helen, and it’s always a treat when we see that beautiful legend on-screen.
And the adventure begins, hiking towards a new life, a new journey of reckoning. Helen’s ex-husband Mike is still attached to her in an unhealthy way, to the point of it being nearly impossible for her to move on. He seems to have her in a limbo hold. Hike leader Beckett (Ben Cook) informs the camping group they will be hiking a total of 81 miles on the famous Appalachian Trail stretching from Connecticut to New York.
Helen reveals she had a miscarriage long before the separation with her ex. So she not only lost her husband and the life she thought she would have, but the whole family that she envisioned for her future. Jake surprises her with an unexpected guest on the trip, a former doctor who is looking for his own adventure and new reckoning himself.
From the start you can already sense the opposite personalities of Jake and Helen will eventually end up together. Two lost souls looking for their next adventure after a past of disappointments. Hugh (Nico Santos) is a vibrant aspiring actor who attaches himself to Helen from the start unwillingly. He sees her as a lost broken soul and already connects to her without giving her much credit.
It seems that Dr. Jake has quit his job in an effort to go study whales. Sea life seems to be his next passion after leaving the world of medicine behind. There is witty bantering throughout the movie between Jake and Helen. You get the sense that even though Jake is best friends with her brother Duncan they have never quite learned much about each other. Jake eventually questions Helen why she’s there. Thinking she’s just simply depressed. Helen responds by saying she wants to take on a challenge and battle her own limitations. She wants a reset.
"“This Helen spits in the face of danger.”"- Helen Carpenter
Helen has it in her mind that is going to win the certificate for the best hiker. That she’s going to prove them all wrong and become the last woman standing. But Jake will find it lucky if she even survives the trip. A certificate is out of the question.
Beckett is pretty hard on Helen from the start. Even though he’s barely fresh out of the Boy Scouts. He doesn’t seem to have much more experience than these inexperienced hikers. Helen doesn’t react well to negativity and Beckett really gives her some hell throughout the movie but she doesn’t let him bring her down. Even though she is nicknamed the Speed Bump. She’s like the little train that could.
The Little Train That Could
Throughout the journey, it becomes a heartwarming movie about a group of people who couldn’t possibly be more opposite of each other. But they have the same goal and destination. They start releasing all their fears and anger through stress. Realizing how much they have in common with one another.
"“I just sort of got sick of being fed up with myself.”"- Helen Carpenter
Watching this Netflix wonder you can see how much Hugh and Helen are alike. Personality-wise, they couldn’t be more opposite but internally they are one and the same. Hugh wanted to become a bigger person than he was before. As where Helen wanted to become a person she could be proud of, looking to the future and letting go of the past. One where she’s not a pushover and lets go of her inhibitions.
Trying to find our way back home
I think it’s a story that most adults go through. You find yourself stuck in this rut of life you get lost and can’t find your back. At a certain point, you start to feel like it’s too late and you go on living day to day, going through the motions. Jake doesn’t want Helen to go back to her ex, and he’s not confident that she won’t. He wants her to realize her worth even if she says she won’t go back. She deserves better than him.
Happiness For Beginners was based on a novel written by Katherine Center and directed by Vicky Wright. It is very evident that Jake has carried lingering feelings for Helen. However, Helen doesn’t catch on to the reality. It’s hard enough for her to let go of her own past, so it’s even harder for her to see what’s right in front of her.
Jake reveals the reason why he stopped being a doctor. He is losing his eyesight due to a genetic condition. During the camping excursion, he loses his glasses and has a weak moment with Helen admitting his secret to her. She is there for him and Jake caresses her cheek, almost sharing a kiss before they are interrupted by another camper.
"“You have risen from the ashes and become one with nature, Helen with an H.”"- Beckett
Helen may not have won the outfitter's certificate for being the best but she had the votes that mattered, which still made her a winner. The movie ends just as you’d expect it would. Jake faces an uphill battle and Helen succumbs to her feelings. Ending with a passionate kiss and a happy conclusion.
It was a very different role for Luke Grimes, but even Kayce Dutton has a soft romantic side and Grimes plays a fool in love to perfection.