Feel-good movies have been around for a long time and have shown to be popular at the box office. Aiming to amuse and uplift our spirits, we have romantic comedies and musicals as well as comedies and fantasy comedies. Unexpectedly, cinema seems more concerned with portraying or eliciting an audience’s emotional response to the sense of happiness than it is with exploring the concept and theme of happiness as a whole.
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In the end, films live on drama and conflict, and the difficult path to happiness is typically the narrative arc. Happiness, like elation, is a fleeting emotion that can be shattered by the ups and downs of daily life.
Is happiness found in love and romance, as many Hollywood films would have it, or is it about a sense of fulfillment and purpose (think It’s a Wonderful Life, 1946)?? Work and prosperity, hedonism and spirituality are all viable paths to happiness. Is it possible to be happy simply by appreciating the present moment, as in Jim Jarmusch’s 2016 film Paterson, where he explores the simple pleasures of life?
“Happiness is a state of mind,” Walt Disney, one of film’s greatest providers of cinematic visions and happily-ever-after magic, explains. It all depends on your perspective.” The following are ten films that cause us to reflect on our own relationship to contentment.
1. Now, Voyager (1942)
While the romance between Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis) and Jerry (Paul Henreid) on a therapeutic South American cruise is well-known, Voyager’s most essential relationship is between the doctor (Claude Rains’ psychiatrist Dr. Jaquith) and patient. When Charlotte’s mother is overbearing, Jaquith helps her build a sense of self-confidence and independence by helping her choose the best path forward.
It is based on Olive Higgins Prouty’s 1941 novel Now, Voyager, in which the protagonists learn to appreciate their own worth and self-worth, rather than relying on the excesses of Freud’s theory. Despite the film’s reluctance to completely abandon the idea of romantic fulfillment as the path to happiness, Charlotte learns that other forms of happiness exist, including getting a kick out of simple things like seeing beauty in nature, sharing your secrets with a loved one, and learning to love yourself the most.
2. Limelight (1952)
When Chaplin stars as an aging clown named Calvero (played by himself), Limelight is one of his most intimate pictures. They build an intimate relationship of support and fragile awareness of life’s worth, no matter what your condition is: “Life is lovely, magnificent thing, even to jellyfish.” “Life is a beautiful, marvelous thing, even to jellyfish.”
Amidst all the skepticism he was facing for his purported communist inclinations, Chaplin had a hard time staying afloat. There is enough self-recognition and wisdom in Limelight to arouse hope despite the film’s sometimes poignant emotional swings. This [pointing at his head] is the greatest toy ever created,” Calvero tells his father, demonstrating an understanding that happiness isn’t found in fame or fortune but in the way we view the world. Allhappiness can be yours if you know how to get it.”
3. Le Bonheur (1965)
Agnès Varda’s Le Bonheur shows that ‘happiness’ may be utilized as an ironic term alongside works like Todd Solondz’sHappiness (1998) and Wong Kar Wai’sHappy Together (1997). As if a bright idyll were not enough, Varda’s compelling tale depicts nature’s splendor as it is accompanied by Mozart’s hauntingly beautiful compositions. When François (Jean-Claude Drouot) has an affair with a gorgeous postal worker, he finds himself in a world of discontentment with his wife Thérèse (Claire Drouot) and two children.
François believes he can love both women equally and believes his wife should share in his happiness, which, at first, she concedes. At this point, one may expect some drama. This gorgeous summer apple has “a worm in the middle,” as it was described by director Varda herself. The universe of Le Bonheur is one of sarcastic fairytale horror, where women are interchangeable and even the most horrific consequences have no effect on François’ unsettlingly happy existence.
4. Local Hero (1983)
Texan oil executive Mac (Peter Riegert) is dispatched to Scotland by his astronomy-obsessed boss (Burt Lancaster) to buy a seaside village for a refinery in Local Hero. Confusion sets in for Mac as he develops feelings for the community and natural surroundings. It’s not hard to see why Bill Forsyth earned a BAFTA for his performance in Local Hero. Directed with unflinching confidence, the picture is both heartbreaking and amusing.
Despite the film’s subtle examination of many forms of happiness, the film also cleverly undercuts these messages with a droll pragmatism about capitalism, as the locals, desperate to sell, debate the merits of a Rolls or a Lamborghini. When Mac arrives to Houston, Forsythfavours a sterile modern flat with a collection of pebbles and shells laid out on the floor.
5. Shall We Dance? (1996)
He becomes infatuated with the beautiful ballroom dancer and teacher Mai (Tamiyo Kusakari) he spots from a studio window, and we expect a romance to develop. In contrast, Masayuki Suo’s comedic drama (later filmed here with Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez) is not about love, but rather about the self-fulfillment that comes from releasing one’s inhibitions, expressing oneself via performance, and doing some endorphin-raising exercise.
It’s not easy for Shohei to begin his dance classes in secret since he’s afraid of what Japanese society could perceive as shameful, but he needs something else to make him happy – so he hides away in the shadows. It’s Tomio Aoki (Tomio Takenaka) who gives the film’s funniest example of the film’s theme, as he transforms into a bewigged Latin American-style extrovert while dancing. Who cares if he looks ridiculous when you’re tangoing with gusto?
6. After Life (1998)
It’s every week that an afterlife social worker guides the freshly deceased into choosing the best memories of their lives so they can replay it for eternity, forgetting everything else. Hirokazu Koreeda’s After Life, a profound meditation on life, death, memory, and cinema, has a simple but unique idea. A realist-inflected version of limbo was created by Koreeda by blending real interviews with people discussing their experiences, with narrative, performed scenes, some of which were improvised.
After Life emphasizes the importance of memory in our sense of self and the importance of happiness relying on past experiences as much as on the here and now. A happy memory might include everything from a trip to Disneyland to simply sharing a bench with a loved one, but for some, a happy memory is hard to come by after a lifetime of sadness. Finding out that he was a part of someone else’s happy memories is the secret to his own happiness, according to one social worker. If you had to choose between two memories, which one would you select?
7. Amélie (2001)
Considering Amélie was nominated for five Academy Awards and has made over 17 times its original $10 million budget, the film’s creators have to know a thing or two about a happy life. Both domestic and foreign audiences fell in love with the story of a lonely, warm-hearted Parisian with a rich imagination in this enchanting film. In the opening scene, Amélie (Audrey Tautou) discovers an old box of childhood souvenirs and sets out to return it to the rightful owner. Then she will devote herself to doing good for the benefit of others.
Her strategy creates the “ideal moment,” and Amélie comes to understand how rewarding it can be to make someone else happy. Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s beautiful picture is not just a tribute to generosity; it also sees joy in the mundane, such as the pleasant sensation of cracking a crème brûlée or dipping one’s hand in grain. It is a lovely romance that suggests the liberty of meeting a soulmate who shares your values, but the most important aspect of the story is Amélie’s charming, anticipatory curiosity at the world around her…
8. Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)
Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky, perhaps more than any other film on this list, understands that attitude is everything. A London schoolteacher, Poppy (Sally Hawkins), is so easygoing that it’s irritating. When Poppy’s bike is taken, she still manages to smile and laugh, and she even violates the ultimate London taboo of talking to stranger despite the shame. Scott’s jealousy and anguish over Poppy make her a little gloomy, but she isn’t insensitive to others’ hardships and isn’t indifferent to Eddie Marsan’s expect the worst, racist, profoundly insecure driving teacher, Scott.
Scott makes multiculturalism the scapegoat for his problems, although he is genuinely depressed and enraged, as seen by his conspiracy theories and rants. When it comes to Poppy’s view on life, she doesn’t live in a gloomy bubble but recognizes the difficulties of the world and acts appropriately when she can (as a teacher, for example). Toward the end of the film, a friend says, “Well, you make your own luck in life, don’tyou?”
9. Inside Out (2015)
Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias) is a young protagonist in Pixar’s Oscar-winning animation, in whose head we are joined by five animated emotions: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust. With her family moving to San Francisco, Riley’s “personality islands” and core memories are in risk of being shattered, and Joy (Amy Poehler) believes that Sadness’s (Phyllis Smith) influence is taking over with disastrous repercussions.
Inside Out is a daring, insightful film about the inner workings of the human mind, directed by Up’s Pete Docter, who worked closely with psychologists to understand how human emotions affect interpersonal relations. This movie focuses on the fading and shifting of memories, the awareness that grief plays a crucial role in our lives, and the complexity that sees different emotions coexist in us concurrently. What perplexing beings we are, relying as we do on such a jumble of emotions to make us happy.
10. Lovers Rock (2020)
Steve McQueen’s Lovers Rock, part of the director’s Small Axe series, depicts an explicitly communal brand of reggae and dub-fueled hedonism, one derived from the specifically Black milieu of that era’s ‘blues parties’ The film’s critics have dubbed it “a cine-tab of MDMA” and “a study in Black joy” (pay parties held in houses as an alternative toclubs).
While Lovers Rock depicts a blooming romance in Ladbroke Grove in 1980, its real impact is in the intimate representation of dancing, with typically lengthy takes of revellers caught up in the rhythm, laughing, singing, and grooving together in a collective show of happiness.
During the film, McQueen’s film reaches a transcendence that allows the dancers to escape their daily tensions and experience a sanctuary close to spiritual ecstasy – this, it seems, is their church, with its own exultant rituals.