FILM REVIEW: Girls Always Happy 柔情史
Girls Always Happy confronts the contemporary city life in Beijing with a brand new perspective, and portrays the relationship between a single mother and daughter with astonishing precision. We follow the pair as they live together, where their mutual repulsion and hatred are on full display. Yet from the despair grows the power of tender love.
Director: Yang Mingming
Cast: Yang Mingming, Nai An
Runtime: 117 min
Review by Leon Lau
How often do you argue with your parents? Once a week? More when you were a teenager? Try to imagine arguing every single day as an adult, and you have an idea of what Girls Always Happy (2018) is about.
This is an incredibly sardonic drama about the ups and downs of a mother and daughter living together in a Beijing hutong (alleyways formed by lines of residential homes,) as their strong personalities constantly clash with each other.
Yang Mingming plays Wu, a bitter woman in her late 20s who is struggling with her career as a writer. She lives with her domineering mother (Nai An), and they constantly go to war over the most trivial of things.
Your butt has started to droop. Your sense of style sucks. The way you wash the dishes is wrong. Find a husband quickly so that we can be provided for. These are just a few of the arguments our characters get into, and Girls Always Happy eagerly digs into the insecurities of both women. What makes the verbal disputes so watchable are the two visceral performances from our female leads.
Nai An is superb as the nagging mother, as she laces her insults with a sense of self righteousness. Equally good is Yang Mingming as the disillusioned daughter, who matches her mother’s spite with gusto. But it’s really the chemistry the two actresses have with each other that brings out the heart of the film.
Underneath all that endless bickering, small moments hint at a sense of mutual respect that the two women have for each other. There are brief scenes where they share silence by savouring a meal together, or complain about the disappointing men in their lives. Our main characters are always hot and cold with each other, which creates a push and pull dynamic keeps you guessing where their relationship will end up. It makes for some hugely emotional scenes since you can’t help but root for both of them.
It’s a shame then, that the pacing can feel so sluggish. The lack of a main goal or conflict in the film’s narrative means that there isn’t much to build up to. The film lacks momentum and is more than happy to simply chug along and observe its characters, but it gets too repetitive as we enter into a loop of arguments and sulking.
More than anything else, Girls Always Happy is a bittersweet meditation on the complicated relationship between a mother and daughter. It provides great insight from both perspectives and is supported by strong performances.
Singapore Chinese Film Festival (SCFF)
Co-organised by the Singapore Film Society and Singapore University of Social Sciences, the Singapore Chinese Film Festival (SCFF) seeks to cultivate an appreciation of independent Chinese cinema. With works from documentaries to shorts to full-length feature films, SCFF showcases the diversity of cultures and languages explored by Chinese filmmakers.