‘Happiness for Beginners’ is a Netflix romantic comedy that is based on Katherine Center’s novel of the same name. Vicky Wight is the director and also adapted the screenplay from the novel. The movie stars Ellie Kemper, Luke Grimes, Ben Cook, Nico Santos, Alexander Koch, and Blythe Danner. It is a boilerplate rom-com about finding one’s own self and unrequited love finally getting fulfilled. Its look into the wild as a source of wisdom and a place to get away from the trappings of civilization is extremely clichéd. At the same time, the film has a hefty dose of heart and humor that makes sure that it is not a total bummer.
Happiness for Beginners (2023) Netflix Movie Synopsis & Plot Summary:
Helen is an English teacher who lives in Pittsburgh. She recently got her divorce after a year of being separated from her husband, Mike. Helen and Mike’s marriage was seen as a disaster in the making from the day of the wedding as they are fundamentally different people. Over the course of the marriage, there was infidelity on his part. Helen had a miscarriage, which ruined her dream of having a family. It is implied that neither was too happy in this marriage. Now, following the divorce, Mike still keeps calling Helen regularly, but she is completely over that chapter of her life and wishes to move forward.
As a way of unwinding and discovering herself, Helen has signed up for a survivalist hike along the Appalachian Trail. On the day before leaving, she meets Jake at a party. Jake is an old friend of her brother’s. He tells her that he remembers when she used to be fun, a statement that offends her a little. Before leaving for the hike, she leaves the keys to her house with Duncan, her brother.
The two are not particularly close, and their interactions involve her being icy and him using humor to not go beyond surface-level interactions. She hands him a laminated list of things he must take care of. Helen also drops by to meet her Grandmother, Gigi, on the way to the hike, a charming old woman who is glad that she got to get out of her terrible marriage. At her house, she comes across a picture of hers from her childhood, with Duncan, Nate (another sibling), and their mother.
At the motel where the hikers are congregating, Helen meets the motley crew that she will be a part of. The hike is being led by a humorless young man, who really appears to be a boy named Beckett. He is a seasoned hiker on the route they are taking, which goes from Connecticut to New York State along the Appalachian Trail. It is a long hike that will take place over weeks, and Beckett wants to ensure that all safety rules are followed, and teamwork is not given a backseat.
It turns out Jake has also signed up for the hike, much to Helen’s chagrin. She confronts him as she believes Duncan has sent him to keep a watch over her, and she simply wants to be on her own on this hike. Jake tells her that he booked the hike a long time ago, and their meeting is entirely a coincidence.
The following morning, the hike begins. It is not a great start for Helen. She has not brought the shoes specifically sent to her by the hiking company. She gets injured from a sharp rock and starts bleeding before the hike has even begun. Moreover, she does not pay heed to a fundamental rule laid down by Beckett and ends up with four blisters by the end of the first day.
The trail name that is given to her is ‘Speed Bump’ because she is a ‘slow’ hiker and causes problems in the progress of the rest of them, unlike Mason, who is a ‘super-hiker.’ Yet over the course of it, Helen learns to hold her own, the best example being when she decides to look for the group of fast hikers after Hugh gets severely injured.
What did Jake mean when he said that Helen used to have fun?
Being Duncan’s best friend, Jake has been around Helen for a long time. In making that statement outside the party, he was referring to who Helen used to be when she was young. She was a fun person who used to laugh a lot and was the ‘karaoke queen.’ At a college bar that Duncan, Jake, and their friends frequented, Helen spent a fortune paying for their pizzas and never allowed others to pay when she was around. It all changed after she met Mike and got married. It explains why Duncan was so dismissive of Mike on the day of their wedding and why Jake was happy to hear that she got a divorce.
Who is Nathan?
Nathan, or Nate, was the middle child of Helen’s family and her younger brother. He and Helen were really close. When he was 5, and she was 6, they were visiting his parents’ friend’s lake house. Nate really wanted to go to the marina. But Helen wanted to stay in and watch a movie with everyone else. So, Nathan snuck out on his own and presumably drowned.
The death of Nathan was a major shock for their family. Soon after, their parents got divorced, after which their father left. Their mother disappeared after dropping them off at Grandma Gigi’s place, and she brought the two of them up. Helen, even though she knows that she was really young, feels guilty about Nate’s death. She still misses him. In fact, it is the death that is the cause of the distance between her and Duncan. Both siblings never really talk about the tragedy itself. Even though Helen only got to know Nathan in her childhood, his absence has affected her and all her relationships ever since.
Why did Jake stop being a doctor?
Jake did not just give up being a doctor to pursue conservation projects around the world. He has a genetic condition called retinitis pigmentosa. The rods and cones in his eyes are gradually dying. Soon, he will lose his sight. It is a cause of great distress for him and the reason behind leaving his profession. It also explains why he failed the physical test for the hike, about which he lied. He joined the hike at the last moment because he wanted to be around Helen after hearing about it, hoping to let her know the feelings he has always had for her.
Happiness for Beginners (2023) Netflix Movie Ending, Explained:
Why does Helen leave the hiking group early?
At the wrap party, Helen discovers that Jake and Windy are not going to become a couple. He tells Windy that he has someone back home, and when Helen gets wind of this, she decides to leave. She obviously has feelings for him but has been struggling with them because of how long she has known him for as her brother’s friend and possibly because she is trying to avoid another commitment following a failed marriage. Therefore, instead of playing with her hopes, she decides to leave the party and Jake behind quickly so that she can go back to her normal life again.
Back home, she finds a poem that Jake left in her rucksack, confessing to her how much he loves her. It deeply moves Helen, but she does not act on it, knowing that it will make Jake commit infidelity. Little does she know that Jake’s ‘someone back home’ is actually Helen, and so he told that to Windy to break off whatever it is they had during the hike.
The hike indeed proves to be what Helen wanted it to be. Her outlook on her life has changed a lot, and Gigi believes that much of it has to do with love. She denies it, though. Helen hugs her brother properly when she meets him and begins a process of connecting with him more closely. That night, there is a Book Club birthday party being thrown for Gigi’s on-and-off boyfriend, Ricky. At the party, Helen and Duncan confess to each other that they have both, despite their distance, considered the other to be the one person they can always rely on.
Jake turns up at the party and confesses how much he has always wanted to be Helen’s boyfriend. He knows that his condition is something that can be a difficulty to her life in the long term, but it does not matter to her. The two of them kiss, and all is well.