Oh Happy Day (2004)
Directed by: Hella Joof | 94 minutes | drama, comedy, romance | Actors: Lotte Andersen, Malik Yoba, Ditte Grabol, Mikael Birkkjaer, Lennart Aude, Michael Moritzen, Winther Andersen, Ditte Hansen, Lars Hjortshoj, Soren Fauli, Lars Knutzon, Kurt Ravn, David Andersen, Louise Klein
It’s not hard to answer the last question from the film’s official synopsis (“Can the choir where main character Hannah, a bored housewife in a quiet Danish town, sings, grow into a truly inspired whole?”) . Even if you have not seen the film, you can feel that at the end of the film the Danish group, like a professional gospel choir, manages to make the churchgoers jump out of the pews and join in enthusiastically: “Thank you Jesus !”, “Hallelujah!”… aka: “Oh Happy Day!”.
Now this is not a very big problem. After all, in this type of film it is more about the road that is traveled than the destination that is reached; a cliché that could have come straight from the movie. And ‘Oh Happy Day’ largely lives up to its name in that regard. It’s a happy affair there in the Danish village, with its funny inhabitants and infectious music. The problem is that there is hardly any plot and the characters are usually designed in a very basic way. Even Hannah and Jackson aren’t (initially) assigned more than a few defining traits.
As a viewer, we are the first to meet Hannah while she is listening to the radio in her kitchen. This scene should make it clear to us that she understands music. There is a competition on the radio asking what kind of music Queen made in the eighties. Hannah quickly calls with the answer: “symphonic rock”. Five minutes later, when a new leader for the church choir is needed, her lack of response shows that she lacks conviction, which is also expressed by a group member: “Hannah can’t handle big tasks”. No prize for the one who guesses who will take over the leadership of the choir at some point. It is a pity that Lotte Andersen as Hannah, apart from a nice emotional outburst, makes a somewhat lackluster impression. She may have to portray a somewhat shy, introverted character, as viewers we usually don’t really get the impression that there is much behind her expressionless expressions.
The musical savior, Moses Jackson, is played in a competent, if unsurprising way, by Malik Yoba. Yoba, known for the nineties police series ‘New York Undercover’, the film ‘Cool Runnings’ and the Wayne Wang films ‘Smoke’ and ‘Blue in the Face’, comes across quite naturally here, without clearly playing a character. However, his character has only been given a few traits again. Of course he has soul and is inspiring, but at the same time he has drinking and family problems. Again no prize for whoever guesses whether he will see the “light” again at the end of the film, and which two characters will grow closer together.
It is also a pity that the messages about following your heart, and believing in yourself and love (= God?), although inspiring and uplifting in time, sometimes come across as a bit too complicated and simple. This is partly due to the easy set-ups and pay-offs. In the beginning of the film, for example, we are introduced to an unbelieving choir member. At the end of the film, of course, it is he who closes an inspiring speech with a heartfelt “Amen”.
Despite the predictability and the succinctly sketched characters, which fortunately are further developed in the last act of the film, the film is certainly a pleasant viewing experience. Hannah’s friend Grethe (Ditte Grabol) in particular always provides some spice and a cheerful impulse in the company. She often only has to appear on screen with her broad smile to make the film enjoyable. Her recalcitrant, rebellious attitude is what gives the film its very “spirit”. The first half hour of the film is also very entertaining. We get to know the characteristic group members of the choir, and witness the comic entanglements that take place when Jackson sets foot in the Danish church for the first time and is confronted with this white choir. Furthermore, later dramatic developments or storylines, despite the overall predictability of the film, are again surprising. For example, not all relationships are settled in the usual way.
‘Oh Happy Day’ is a bit of a borderline case. The film has a heart in the right place, a (mostly) fun atmosphere, and (largely) sympathetic characters. For someone who doesn’t make too many demands on the story or character development and wants a movie that leaves you with a good feeling, ‘Oh Happy Day’ can be called successful. However, the elaboration will be a bit too simple for some to be able to convince or to captivate for a long time.