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Movie Review: Hits and Misses of Thabang Moleya’s Happiness is a Four Letter Word

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By Isabella Akinseye

Happiness is a Four Letter Word, is a South African romantic comedy which follows the lives of three best friends: Nandi (Mmabatho Montsho), Zaza (Khanyi Mbau) and Princess (Renate Stuurman) who are in search of their own meanings of happiness.

Directed by Thabang Moleya, the movie is based on the eponymous award-winning novel by Cynthia Jele.  It has been nominated for ‘Best First Feature Film by a Director’ at the upcoming 2017 Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA).


Cinematography. Lance Gewer gives viewers a tantalising experience of what modern day Johannesburg looks like. From the suburbs to the inner city, we are taken on a visual journey with beautiful shots of the City of Gold. The interior scenes are also well captured, cementing Happiness is a Four Letter Word’s place in chic flick land. Little surprise that Lance Gewer took home the award for Best Cinematographer at this year’s Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards.  Well deserved!

 Costume: The wardrobe department held nothing back in dressing the characters to part. Zaza is every inch the rich housewife that she is; wearing the latest designer things complete with human hair weave. This is contrasted by the more playful and creative leanings of naturalista Princess whose costume choices are in line with her profession as an art gallery owner. The most serious of the three, Nandi is seen in a lot of formal (yet fashionable) wears as is expected in the legal profession.

Acting: The trio of Mmabatho Montsho, Khanyi Mbau and Renate Stuurman all brought out their A-game acting chops. For a female viewer, it is easy to see some of yourself in each of the characters who on face value seem a bit clichéd but the emotional honesty displayed by the actresses make them believable. The supporting cast also handled their roles competently.


Pacing: The film starts off very well and sustains its momentum keeping you guessing what four letter word definition of happiness will be displayed in the next scene. The audience is taking on an emotional rollercoaster ride but towards the end, the action begins to drag before rushing to a hastily arrived happy ever after ending, as is expected in the genre. Perhaps more could have been done in the setting up the resolution through the screenplay.

Screenplay: For the most part of it, the screenplay works. As a chic flick, chit chats between girlfriends is standard and we come to enjoy the talking heads. However, for the resolution of the film, a lot more could have been done to show (not tell) the transformation of the characters. This would have made the story more believable and relatable.

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