If you’re looking for a sweet summer movie to stream, this book-to-screen adaptation hits all the right notes. Starring Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s Ellie Kemper and Yellowstone‘s Luke Grimes in the leading roles, Happiness for Beginners will make you want to travel, make new friends and fall in love.
But the question that always remains in an adaptation is, how did the book compare to the movie? So we’re going to break down the matches and the misses in this Katherine Center story brought to life
Recently divorced Helen has decided to reset the terms of her life by doing something uncharacteristic. She’s going to go on a dangerous hike and “earn a damn certificate.” Her plans for a solo trip towards self-discovery quickly slide off track when her much younger brother’s best friend joins the trip. Escaping your past self is hard to do with someone who has known you for a decade. Their chemistry is both intriguing and annoying to Helen and as they venture into the woods, both Helen and Jake venture into their own fears and insecurities.
As far as casting goes both actors playing the main characters were fantastic choices. Ellie Kemper nailed the semi-midlife crisis, type-A archetype of Helen with her charming and endearing comic relief that you can always expect from Kemper. As for Luke Grimes, he more than satisfies the role of sweet, but tough capable, but vulnerable Jake that was depicted in the book.
The most notable changes in characters came from the troop of fellow hikers. There were the main staples in the secondary characters that remained true to their book counterparts: Hugh, Windy Beckett, and Mason stick around, but some of the other extraneous adventure-seekers are missing. The group, as a whole, seems to be a much smaller crew than what was represented in the book. While, this made for fewer interactions you also got better insight into each of the characters personality.
With a book like this, you hope to have as rich a backdrop in the movie as you do in the book. And indeed they did an excellent job. The landscape made you want to jump off of your couch and join the cast on their epic hike.
Viewers may not get as much of a feel for the roughness of the terrain and the difficulty of the hike in the movie as was depicted in the book, but it was still enjoyable to watch the characters traverse the great outdoors.
The movie maintained a familiar arc, starting with the initial information about the Helen’s divorce leading her to wanting to embark on a new adventure and encountering her brother’s best friend is going along for the ride. The movie hits all the same highs and lows from the book in this sense.
If the movie is lacking anything, it is more interactions between our main characters. In the book, we get less of a slow burn around Jake and Helen inching towards a relationship. Quite early on in the book we see the two start to flirt and even edge towards more before the trip begins. This leads to a lot more of a romantic comedy feel in the book than you get in the movie. The movie feels like it is more about Helen’s emotional journey getting over her ex and finding herself. In the book, you spend a lot more time watching the “Will they? Won’t they?” play out on the page.
In the movie, some of the bigger details about Helen’s backstory are revealed early on and we’re brought up to speed faster regarding what she’s facing. Ultimately, we see the delightful journey of Happiness for Beginners in film that we would expect from the book. For those that like it best when adaptations stick close to the source material, fans will be fulfilled by this take.
If you’re a fan of Katherine Center and obsessed with an all-time favorite romance trope (i.e. the brothers, best friend) both of the book and the movie will satisfy. As always, you can expect to be more enriched with plot and character detail by reading the book, but with this well-cast movie, you don’t miss minutiae in between Grimes’ adorable grin, Hugh’s comic relief, and Ellie Kemper’s unbreakabley likeable self.