Indie Film Review “The Happiest Place On Earth”




First, the Recap:

Home. They say it’s where the heart is. For so many of us, it represents everything we desire in life–the house, kids, family, career, and joy. When it’s that first stage of seeing this American Dream come to pass, with so many things still a question mark while feeling the thrill of new roads about to be traveled, all seems well and good. For young couple Jonah (Tom Kemnitz Jr.) and Maggie Price (Jennifer Faith Ward), it’s all coming together. Having just purchased their first home, the jitters and hesitations continue to linger ever as they settle in with one initial purpose in mind, to try for kids, to be settled, to move forward with their lives.

However, when Jonah’s job with the newspaper is suddenly upended, all the joys and paths they’d planned get equally shaken. As worry and a loss of security sets in, the tension between the couple mounts, as arguments, ultimatums, and pressures on both of them from other people and circumstances potentially open the door to desperate actions, as they watch the possible end to everything they’d aimed for fade to memory. When Maggie suggests Jonah take some time away to regain perspective, which he realizes is needed, a solo camping trip turns into his inexplicable disappearance, throwing Maggie into a tailspin of emotional upheaval in having to think about letting go and moving on. Reaching a tipping point, twists and turns soon turn her American Dream to ashes.

Next, my Mind:

What starts as a straightforward dramatic effort about one couple’s seeking out the next stage in their lives takes a decidedly blatant turn into a taut, effective mystery that packs a formidable punch and addresses themes that run the gamut of joy, hope in the future, self-worth, discouragement, and especially the price paid for decisions made in distress that have far-reaching ramifications. Makes no mistake here, this is not a light hearted adventure, and is filled with a palpable, yet often understated, air of anxiety and anticipation once events have moved from what appeared to be a happier direction into the affecting enigma of Jonah’s vanishing and the resulting impact it has on Maggie’s existence and the choices she makes. Solid cinematography here which highlights the film’s Florida neighborhood and coastal water settings, the transitions are smooth, the pacing of the film keeps the viewer engaged throughout, and the finale is one certain to leave an lasting impression in your mind after you might think you’ve figured it all out.

Kemnitz Jr. is well cast for this role as Jonah, a confident, middle-class American man who’s aims to provide this next phase in his and Maggie’s life via a new home is severely altered upon his job being downsized. Yet, even in spite of the shock and disappointment, Jonah strives to maintain a positive outlook for the couple that everything will work out, even as the aforementioned pressures are rising and the couple is struggling to maintain a semblance of hope, much less loving connection with each other. As further actions are taken by Jonah, it becomes a deeper riddle, and Kemnitz Jr. is solid all the way. Likewise, Ward is greatly effective as Maggie, the hard-working, highly influential half of the couple whose initial doubts and fears in the home they choose reflects both the nervousness of stepping out into something bigger while still knowing the absolute excitement of what the whole move means in trying for a family. Yet, when Jonah’s job loss causes her to be abruptly ejected from this ideal scenario in her head, she tries her best to stay hopeful and encouraging while facing pressures of her own. Once he disappears, the road she travels then is volatile and haunting, all very emotively executed by Ward.

Supporting roles abound from Marco DiGeorge as lawyer Evan Sterling, who’s trying to handle Maggie’s post-loss case and what it all entails for her, Peg O’Keef as Maggie’s mother Ellen, who’s nose has been in the couple’s business before and after the incidents involved, Chris Lindsay as Det. Darrell Jenkins, an officer trying to get to the real truth of what events unfolding might indicate beyond the surface, and Daniel Wachs as Don, Jonah’s veteran co-worker at the newspaper and who tries to be a voice of comfort for him and, ultimately, Maggie. Additional appearances are made by Carmen Serrano Giubilei, J. Dennis Marisco, Karen LeBlanc, Tony Riha, and Janelle Figueroa among a myriad of others.  In total, “The Happiest Place On Earth” represents a sound indie feature film effort, certainly worth taking a look at, even more so thanks to its edgy, tense, and sobering lesson it presents about the cost of best intentions.

As always, this is all for your consideration and comment.  Until next time, thank you for reading!

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