A Little Cheeriness For These Times – Life-affirming Films To Beat The Cabin Fever
With the “circuit breaker” month well under way, all of us need all the help we can get in getting through these tough times with our senses intact. Thanks to streaming services and the endless depths of YouTube, there is content abound that could keep anyone occupied for years. However, they might not all be the best kinds of content to watch – lest they exacerbate cabin fever.
But fret not! The Happiness Initiative and the Sinema.SG team are here to help.
In 2019, the Happiness Initiative launched the inaugural edition of the Happiness Film Festival, seen as the world’s first of its kind. The second Happiness Film Festival and the region’s first Happiness Conference were slated to be held in March 2020 but these plans were postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Still, the Initiative continues to further its goals of promoting happiness and well-being through its Facebook page. Their page is now dedicated to the curation of inspirational news to beat back the flood of COVID-19 direness on everybody’s Facebook timeline. In addition, they have hosted movie watch parties, curating films with heartwarming themes to watch along from the comfort of our homes.
The Initiative – with the Sinema.SG team pitching in – has narrowed down the galaxy of content to list eight positive and life-affirming films that are bound to make you smile. They may not be able to make everything right, but we hope that these films will at least make a day better.
From the Sinema.SG team:
The Martian (2015)
Director: Ridley Scott
While giving a lecture to a class full of space cadets, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) shares with them his experiences in space: “At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you and you’re going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin.”
And that is exactly what Mark does while marooned in the barren wasteland of Mars. Despite the odds and being well-aware of his potential doom, Mark soldiers on with his wise-cracking sense of humour while relying on his craftiness to get by. Meanwhile back at home, scientists have banded together to ensure that Mark gets back home, looking to achieve the impossible through teamwork and showing that no one life is unimportant.
The Martian is a light-hearted, tightly-constructed flick by one of the masters of the sci-fi genre, Ridley Scott. Carrying the film along is Matt Damon’s absolutely charming performance in the lead, championing the power of positivity despite the worst of situations, while showing that the way home will always be around the next corner with the right amount of tenacity. Together with an all-star cast of delightful characters and their witty banter, The Martian is an entertaining ride through the cosmos that breezes through its two-hour long runtime.
Hunt For The Wilderpeople (2016)
Director: Taika Waititi
Hunt For The Wilderpeople, directed by rising star Taika Waititi, is an excellent film to spend a family evening with. It sees delinquent Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) taken by child welfare services to live with his new foster family, Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Hec (Sam Neill), in a remote farm. A series of unfortunate events forces the overcompensating Ricky and grouchy Hec (and Ricky’s dog Tupac) to disappear into the woods, with cinema’s most militant child welfare service hot on their heels.
Despite a rocky start, the mismatched buddy duo eventually forms a heartwarming parental bond as they travel through the lush New Zealand countryside. In between the off-the-wall quirkiness and hiliratity, Waititi pulls no punches with the film’s quieter emotional moments as well, jerking at the tear ducts with themes of abandonment while confronting a broken child welfare system.
While the “circuit breaker” has made it impossible (and illegal) to head out for a family outing, Hunt For The Wilderpeople seems to be the perfect replacement. It’s a marvellous film full of heart and joy that just has something for everyone.
From Sherman Ho, Co-Founder of the Happiness Initiative:
3 Idiots (2009)
Director: Rajkumar Hirani
This film is one the most well-known and popular Bollywood films in the world. If you haven’t watched it yet, please do yourself and your family a favour and watch it – it’s one of the most powerful films that you will watch in your life! The film follows the story of how Farhan (Madhavan) and Raju (Sharman Joshi) meet Rancho (Aamir Khan) at an engineering college. Rancho is an unconventional student who has a very different and refreshing take on the education system. His thoughts and actions eventually force the two of them to re-evaluate why they are in engineering school, and ultimately their purpose in life.
The film is not only entertaining and hilarious but also tackles the issue of society’s blind obsession with grades in a deeply personal and emotional way. With schools now closed and that we can no longer force ourselves (or our kids) to go through the daily grind of meaningless cramming, perhaps it’s the perfect time to also take a different perspective of learning. You will leave this film with a warm, tender feeling in your heart (and probably tears down your cheeks). When the Happiness Initiative organised a watch party for this film last Sunday, we realised that many of the people there were watching it for the second or third time. It’s that good.
Director: Sandi Tan
Shirkers is a Singaporean documentary in the making for more than 25 years before its release in 2018. The film also won the World Cinema Documentary Directing Award at Sundance Film Festival that year. It started in 1992, when 19 year old Sandi Tan, her friends Jasmine Ng and Sophia Siddique, and mentor Georges Cardona decided to make a film in Singapore. Their blood, sweat and tears eventually amounted to nothing when George suddenly disappeared with all the film’s footage, never seen again until 2011, when she suddenly receives all the footage from his ex-wife.
The story itself is quite surreal, and even more so because it happened right here in Singapore. But Shirkers is also a deeply personal and authentic documentary. It explores the whole emotional roller coaster Sandi and her friends go through from start to end. But yet, this story isn’t just about the angst of the whole experience. It is about the importance of loving what you do, and doing what you love. It is about hope, that we should never give up our dreams, and to always pursue our passion. This is perhaps something we all need now.
Up In The Air (2009)
Director: Jason Reitman
This might seem like an ironic film to recommend now with more than 95% of the world’s airline fleet grounded. The film is about Ryan (George Clooney), who works as a corporate downsizing expert (basically someone who specializes in firing people). His idealistic co-worker, Natalie (Anna Kendrick), proposes that, to save costs, firing can be done via videoconferencing instead. And Ryan tries to help her understand why there are some things that technology can’t replace, while at the same time questioning his tendency to emotionally detach himself from people.
Contrary to its title, the film does ground us in certain ways, helping us understand the importance of our relationships, even to those of us who disregard it. This is especially relevant to us today, when we’re all stuck in our homes where sometimes the only way to communicate with our loved ones is via videoconferencing. It is a timely reminder that given everything that’s happening around us, it’s our loved ones that matter the most. It didn’t get nominated for six Academy Awards for nothing. And if all that still doesn’t convince you, George Clooney and Anna Kendrick stars in this film!
Happiness Initiative will be organising Netflix Watch Parties for Up In The Air on Thursday (16 April) and Shirkers next Thursday (23 April). Do follow their Telegram or Facebook for updates about the event!
– Alone, Together – How Watch Parties Look to Mend Cinema’s Communal Experience Frayed by COVID-19
– Quarantine Conundrums – Films to Check Out While Staying Home
– Sinema’s Ten Favourite Films of the Decade