Happiness is A Four-Letter Word: an Engaging and Memorable Local Screen Gem

Happiness is A Four-Letter Word tells the story of Princess (Renate Stuurman), Zaza (Khanyi Mbau) and Nandi (Mmabatho Montsho), women who are at a point where they are taking stock of their lives, and realising nothing has turned out the way they planned.

Three friends - young, beautiful, successful, empowered - living the dream eGoli. They have everything they could ever want, and on most days they believe they are happy, too.


Nandi has just been promoted at work, and she is also in the middle of planning her wedding to Thomas (Tongayi Chirisa), when someone from her past comes back and threatens to ruin everything. Zaza, as the young 'trophy wife' to a dutiful Bheki, is conflicted. She has a very comfortable lifestyle and two wonderful children, but she needs companionship - and seeking such companionship outside of her marriage comes with its own risks... Princess, in contrast, has no interest in settling into a committed relationship, choosing instead to keep her lovers at a distance. After all, she is too busy for a relationship - but then Leo comes along.

Happiness focuses on genuine relationships between people, shining a spotlight on the nuances and inconsistencies that exist there. The reason I found it so engaging is the credibility of the storyline. I felt like I knew someone who was  just like Nandi, I had heard about young women like Zaza and something about Princess resonated with me on a personal level.
As I was watching, I felt strongly that I wanted the best for each of the women. I felt especially invested in Nandi and Thomas' relationship - it was just so precious. Montsho and Chirisa definitely did justice to the couple's story, and the "where do you see us in 20 years?" scene  was particularly memorable.

The film is star-studded, to say the least, but I did notice the work that Khanyi Mbau put in. It is clear that acting is something she will continue to dedicate herself to, and something which she will strive to do to the best of her ability. Mbau has gone from Lokshin Bioskop to the big screen, and I can't wait to see where she goes next.

Happiness sees the three women at the centre of the story asking themselves "what more could I possibly want?" This is a deceptively simple question, that leads to revealing answers.
It is an emotional movie, but not in the cliched "tearjerker" sense. Instead, it is a movie which creeps into the viewer's heart, and will likely stay there for some time.

I most enjoyed the fact that this was a movie full of young, beautiful black people, navigating the peaks and valleys of life in an interesting time, in a vibrant city full of promise. There isn't enough of that on screen.
As the credits rolled, I already knew I would be going to watch Happiness again. It was just that good.

Some other observations:

The cinematography was breathtaking. Johannesburg is usually shown as gritty, tough, sinister, but for this film Lance Gewer showed the lush, bright, alluring side of the city. Exactly the type of place driven women would be living.

The attention to detail when it came to the characters' costume design was amazing. I especially loved Princess' wardrobe.

The soundtrack  included music by Nakhane Toure, Afrotraction and Lira, and it was superb.

I am glad that Cynthia Jele was part of the process of adapting the novel for the screen: I like to know that a novel is getting the treatment it deserves from screenwriters. The screenplay stayed true to the novel, and the omissions and adjustments that were made served the story well.