Written by Michael Clawson
“How are you doing? How is your life?” It’s not until the hour and fifty-four minute mark in this two hour movie that a character finally bothers to ask Manana those questions. They’re asked by Soso, Manana’s husband, who’s visiting Manana in her newly rented apartment. It’s 2016, they live in Georgia, and, until recently, they lived with their two grown children and Manana’s parents under a single roof.
The first act of My Happy Family shows us what life under that roof is like for Manana. When she’s not being barked at by her mother to pickup certain items from the market on her way home from work (she’s a teacher), she’s getting a lecture from her husband about not being cheery enough on her birthday. Their space is cramped (Soso and his son literally bump into each other one occasion) and the noise level seems to be constantly rising as family members talk over each other. Through hand-held camera work and a wonderfully naturalistic performance from Ia Shugliashviliwe, we get the sense that to Manana, all this is stifling, oppressive, and claustrophobia-inducing.
So she rents her new apartment, a quiet, tranquil space with two-tone cream and sea foam wallpaper in the entrance way and a balcony where she can hear the wind blowing through the trees. Here, she can have a piece of cake at any hour of the day without first having to get down her mother’s cooking, she can sing and play her guitar, or she can simply sit and enjoy the pleasure of solitude.
Much of My Happy Family involves Manana’s family trying to understand why she would want to move out. To them, it’s a betrayal and it’s embarrassing because it defies cultural norms and expectations. As viewers, Manana’s reasons for leaving are clear, and it’s thrilling to watch her remain steadfast in her decision as family and friends alike implore her to move back home. She’s an inspiring character, one who comes to believe in the need to prioritize personal well-being over dissatisfying conformity to cultural conventions, and the film overall is lovely.
–Michael Clawson originally published this review on Letterboxd 02/07/18
View it on Netflix