Did cupid’s arrow strike you? Are you in love with the idea of love? Do you have your wedding planned out way before you even snag a bae? Do you believe in soul mates? Then we have the perfect movie for you in the month of love.
Happiness is a Four-Letter Word offers a glimpse behind Jo’burg surbabia’s white picket fences told through the story of three career-oriented and strong-willed women in search of true love – cliché as it may sound.
First there is Khanyi Mbau playing a very Khanyi Mbau archetype as trophy wife Zaza. Zaza loves everything that shines, call her the Queen of Bling if you may. Delivering shallow remarks such as “Well, shopping relaxes me”, it’s evident that Mbau didn’t have to delve very deep to find the woman she portrays on the big screen.
Bored with her lonely life Zaza, a mother of two, has an illicit love affair with a married man (Daniel Hadebe), while her inattentive husband (Simo Magwaza) is away on business, because according to Zaza’s wisdom having an affair with another married person doesn’t really count as cheating. Mbau is clearly not afraid to take the Mickey out of her tabloid persona. As a result, she surprisingly brings some comic relief to the dramedy.
Then there is art gallery owner and serial dater Princess (Renate Stuurman) who falls head-over-heels in love with smooth-talking afrocentric artist (Richard Lukunku), the kind of guy your mama warned you about, to a dramatic outcome.
Perhaps Stuurman was terribly miscast in the role or she was not given much to work with, whatever the reason might be Princess’ story never really takes off and makes one want to fast-forward through some of her screen time. Sad since Stuurman is one of the best kept secrets in the South African acting realm.
The most compelling character arc of all three ladies is the story of Nandi (Mmabatho Montsho); a lawyer and compulsive perfectionist. From the outside Nandi has the perfect life, a doting fiancé (Tongayi Chirisa), great career and forthcoming nuptials. But in reality she is suffocating, because all she ever does is give, while everyone around her takes. Her fiancé comes with baby mama drama, while her overbearing father refuses to see that his little girl is no longer little.
Nandi is so concerned with keeping others happy that she can’t even answer a simple question as ‘What do you want?’ If she didn’t have enough on her plate, a blast from the past (Chris Attoh) re-enters her life, tempting her to come dance with the devil.
Montsho is devastating in the role, approaching it with such eloquent subtlety and compassion. It’s pleasant to see her back in front of the camera, because she was sorely missed.
The chemistry between Montsho and Zimbabwean actor Tongayi Chirisa is electric, with the marvellous Chirisa as Montsho’s on-screen fiancé threatening to steal a few scenes from her, especially in one pivotal fight scene.
Prolific names including Pabi Moloi, Hlomla Dandala, Fulu Mugovhani and Thuli Thabethe have small parts in the film. Terence Bridgett is once again typecast as a flamboyant gay man.
Director Thabang Moleya
Thabang Moleya – noted for his directing work in Jacob’s Cross, The LAB, Zone 14 and JOZI H – brings the dramedy to the big screen; with screenwriter Busisiwe Ntilintili adapting the film from a book by Nozizwe Cynthia Jele. Though not innovative, Moleya’s work in the film is visually appealing and deserving of some recognition. By big leaps and bounds, Moleya is paving the way for the future of South African cinema, especially in this genre, which is admirable.
The film plays around with voice-over narration, even though the technique feels like it was used more as an experimental tool than to add a new layer to the story. Tightly framed camera angles don’t always pay off in the film. Some key parts feel rushed, which leaves you wanting more and feeling a little robbed. Some scenes would have had more impact with vernacular introduced to the dialogue.
Despite its countless flaws, Happiness is a Four-Letter Word is highly entertaining popcorn movie. A perfect date night movie, be it for a ladies night out or a first date and certainly a must-see in the month of love.