Film Review: HappyFilm
Directed by Ben Nabors, Stefan Sagmeister, Hillman Curtis
Internationally renowned graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister’s introspective documentary focuses on his attempts to see if he can be a happier person. As he makes clear, Sagmeister is not depressive, nor is he in any kind of predicament: Indeed, he’s quite successful and well-off and living in New York. What he wants to know is if he can “redesign” his life to make it happier. The film follows Sagmeister over an extended period, as he tries a variety of methods—meditation, talk therapy, and pharmaceuticals—with mixed results. The journey is unpredictable, to say the least: His codirector, Hillman Curtis, passed away from cancer during production.
As a look at how an ambitious real-life design project can be taken over by, well, real life, HappyFilm is quite interesting. And one must commend Sagmeister for his forthrightness, and his willingness to put himself out there. (That’s nothing new for him, however; this is a man who once carved designs into his torso for a project.) Additionally, it is valuable to see the effects of these different therapies on an individual. Taking meds, for example, leads to a period of euphoria, when Sagmeister is convinced everything is going well—an impression his doctor warns him against.
But it still feels like something is missing: So much of Sagmeister’s interest in happiness seems to be founded on his relationships with women—which always seem to fall apart—and there’s a certain uncomfortable indulgence in watching him fall in and out of love with various mates. The problem is, we never quite buy the sincerity of these romances; Sagmeister just comes across as another good-looking, successful hotshot who burns through relationships. The result is an interesting movie with an occasionally insufferable subject.