Review: Crazy With Happiness (2017)

Crazy With Happiness (2017)

Directed by: Johan Nijenhuis | 102 minutes | comedy, romance | Actors: Plien van Bennekom, Carly Wijs, Loes Haverkort, Matteo van der Grijn, Henry van Loon, Marie-Mae van Zuilen, Keanu Visscher, Marc Bosch, Beppie Melissen, Nick Roeten, Nick Vorsselman

Plien van Bennekom is a versatile woman. She is best known as half of the cabaret duo ‘Plien en Bianca’, with whom she has been working together with her colleague and good friend Bianca Krijgsman for over twenty years. Since they won both the jury and the audience prize at the prestigious Camaretten Festival in 1996, they have been drawing full houses. Their children’s program ‘Zaai’, which they made with Joep Onderdelinden, was also a success. But Van Bennekom can do more. For many years she was part of the cast of the satirical program ‘Koefnoen’, in which her parody of Linda de Mol was particularly memorable, and she can be seen in the comic consumer program ‘Kanniewaarzijn’. She also played a prominent role in the educational series ‘Welcome to the Golden Age’, aimed at school-aged youth, and played supporting roles in numerous film, TV and musical productions. In the romantic comedy ‘Crazy of happiness’ (2017) by Johan Nijenhuis, Van Bennekom lands her first real leading role in a feature film. Where Krijgsman with her role in the Telefilm ‘De Nieuwe Wereld’ (2014) showed that she also did not shy away from more serious work (she even received an International Emmy Award for it), Van Bennekom sticks to a rather cabaret-like portrayal of a woman we , despite her charming bumbling, but can’t seem to close in our hearts.

Van Bennekom plays Lena Verheijen, a woman in her forties who earns a living as a songwriter for her practically retired singing friend Valerie (Carly Wijs). She lives with her seventeen-year-old daughter Maud (Marie-Mae van Zuilen) in a picturesque farmhouse in a village in the east of the country; she keeps the identity of Maud’s father a secret, something that is increasingly troubling her daughter. But another problem presents itself first: Valerie desperately needs a new hit, but Lena struggles with writer’s block. She should fall in love again, that will give her new inspiration, Valerie believes. But after seventeen years of ‘standing dry’, dating Lena doesn’t go very well; she’s even forgotten how to kiss (tongue)! The rich notary in the village (Henry van Loon), a snazzy and spoiled mother’s child, has had a crush on her for years. Lena doesn’t really like him, but for lack of anything better, she still ventures on a date. Meanwhile, Valerie comes up with a brilliant plan: she hires the unemployed actor Hugo (Matteo van der Grijn) to take over Lena. If she falls in love with him, then that inspiration will probably be fine. Hugo sees a nice challenge in it and plays the game, complete with wig, sultry voice and blurry one-liners. And Lena falls for it and falls madly in love. What nobody had taken into account, however, is that Hugo is slowly but surely starting to develop feelings for Lena…

Central to ‘Mad of happiness’ is the contrast between small, pure and authentic versus grandiose, lavish and counterfeit. Nijenhuis and screenwriter Jacqueline Epskamp try to exploit this contrast, but the balance for the film as a whole nevertheless tilts towards the latter; Crazy about happiness has little to do with genuine emotions and honest characters and is rich in clichés. The biggest problem is actually that Van Bennekom gets stuck in cabaret acting. Whether it’s her glance or her voice; she constantly gives the impression of being a character rather than a woman we should sympathize with. Certainly in the scenes that (should) have a serious undertone, therefore, miss their target. Moreover, she has no chemistry with Van der Grijn. Better are her scenes with her film daughter Van Zuilen, who comes across as fresh and natural. Had Nijenhuis cast an actress with a broader palette of emotions for the lead role, this would undoubtedly have turned out better (because more credible). As a comic duo, Beppie Melissen and Henry van Loon as mother and son hit the mark; their scenes are just about the climax of the film, which otherwise comes across as rather messy, shallow and predictable.

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