Nambitha Ben-Mazwi, Renate Stuurman and Khanyi Mbau in a scene from ’Happiness Ever After’. Picture: Sivuyile Matsiliza/Netflix
Nambitha Ben-Mazwi, Renate Stuurman and Khanyi Mbau in a scene from ’Happiness Ever After’. Picture: Sivuyile Matsiliza/Netflix

Why we can celebrate the black excellence of ‘Happiness Ever After’ but also call out its flaws

By Debashine Thangevelo Time of article published Nov 17, 2021

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“Happiness Ever After” has finally been released.

The sequel to the 2016 hit, “Happiness Is a Four-letter Word”, has since made the Top 10 in South Africa Today list on Netflix.

Its popularity among streamers is unsurprising given that it has been a hugely-anticipated sequel for Mzansi.

But not everyone is blown away by the romantic drama, which is evident by the comments on the Twitterverse.

And the division is understandable.

Although the casting is as top-notch as the production value, the storytelling and character development fails to carry through with the depth it so clearly aims to achieve.

Unlike the original movie, which had a solid blueprint in Nozizwe Cynthia Jele’s novel to work from, this one tries to match its appeal by retaining that sisterhood trope, with the immensely talented Renate Stuurman (Princess), Khanyi Mbau ( Zaza) and Nambitha Ben-Mazwi (Zimkhitha) as its anchors.

However, it takes the narrative in a direction that goes beyond the book.

Daniel Effiong with Renata Stuurman. Picture: Sivuyile Matsiliza/Netflix

The premise follows the BFFs as they navigate life’s curveballs when it comes to love and those “it’s complicated” scenarios.

The storyline picks up five years later, where much has changed in their lives.

While Princess has settled into a happy-family situation with her partner Maxwell (Daniel Effiong), who is a doting substitute father to her daughter Thandi, there is unease lurking beneath the idyllic façade.

At the gallery, she’s got everything on lockdown.

But at home, Princess, while irked by certain red flags with Maxwell bites her tongue.

She doesn’t want to rock that boat.

This is despite his slightly controlling behaviour where he discourages her from showing too much cleavage or him telling her: “If you don’t know who you are, everyone will tell you who you’re meant to be.”

But the return of her baby daddy Leo (Richard Lukunku) forces Princess to face certain realisations that she has compartmentalised in her life, especially when Maxwell gets a bit antsy with her ex back in the picture.

Then there is Zaza, slay queen extraordinaire.

While mourning the loss of her late husband, her life is thrown into disarray by the arrival of her mother-in-law (played by veteran actress Nandi Nyembe) and her sister-in-law Fakazile (Xolile Tshabalala).

While Zaza has no problem with her mother-in-law, Fakazile is a different story.

There is no love lost between the two and you can cut the tension with a knife anytime they are in the same room together. As such, the barbed exchanges between them are unrelenting.

This brings us to florist Zimkhita, who is also Princess and Zaza’s yoga instructor.

Although deeply wounded by the fact that her ex is tying the knot, she believes in love.

Nambitha Ben-Mazwi with Yonda Thomas. Picture: Sivuyile Matsiliza/Netflix

And when she meets Yonda (Yonda Thomas) at Princess’s gallery event, there is an undeniable spark.

But beneath all that charm, Yonda is commitment-phobic and their on-again-off-again hookups grow wearisome.

While Thabang Moleya is back in the director’s seat, Busisiwe Ntintili’s absence doesn’t go unnoticed with the script entrusted to Ayanda Halimana, who has a handful of projects under her belt.

The writer does her best to represent the various spectrums of dating while balancing it with family politics.

However, when juggling a layered narrative and a multistar cast, you cannot tackle surface issues.

There has to be depth, which unleashes that sought-after emotional conflict.

Allow me to explain. Zimkhita’s dating woes with Yonda are relatable. But the scenes feel rehearsed.

The words aren’t attached to that underlying intensity of pain that explains his guarded standpoint.

Also, the viewer is led to believe that he is this high-flying creative seeking massive success with his dating app.

But, in order for him to sell the idea to his financial backer, he has to rely on his new “friend” to help circumvent the shortcomings in his vision. Who doesn’t do basic research when embarking on such a major undertaking?

Authenticity and logic cannot be sacrificed in storytelling.

Another scenario I struggled with was that Leo, despite having been an absent father looking for a do-over, would knowingly leave his toddler daughter waiting in favour of signing a deal.

It really was a hamfisted way of painting him as unreliable and irresponsible. Princess’s restrained anger when confronting him didn’t help either.

Don’t even get me started on Zaza’s office romance that comes out of left-field.

And it is these drawbacks that hinder the movie from reaching its full potential but, if you look past them, you can enjoy the frothy plot for what it is.

The music score in this glossy offering is on point, it encapsulates the mood marvellously.

The actors are impressive in their respective roles. Stuurman and Mbau have their bestie vibe down to an artform.

You can relate to their ease and genuineness with their “real talk” moments.

Ben-Mazwi represents the struggles of a lot of single women out there. And she plays her part with finesse, limitations with character development notwithstanding.

I don’t think any woman who has been messed around would eventually take the guy back as easily as she did towards the end. But, hey, maybe that is just me.

And those tit-for-tat blow-ups between Tshabalala, who is in her element barring her claws and snarling at her nemesis, and Mbau were pure gold.

“Happiness Ever After” lacks depth with its storytelling but you can appreciate its celebration of sisterhood and self-discovery that happiness and love comes from within, first.

Below are some of the reactions on Twitter:

@Tsile_ wrote: “Bathong Max ?? That's a proposal?Weary face #HappinessEverAfter”

@temsie_m posted: “That scene of Khanyi Mbau screaming at Xolile Tshabalala…..sheeeesh #HappinessEverAfter”

“I'm going to watch #happinesseverafter while cleaning my room, cos that's the only way I can possibly watch this show lol,” added @Themelanatedpa.

@WiniBoansi posted: “No way did Leo forgot to pick up his daughter? He really hasn’t changed AT ALL. Rubbish excuse of a “Father” #HappinessEverAfter“

@WiniBoansi commented: “Princess has hit the nail on the head “subservient wife”!! Max is forcing her to be something she’s not #HappinessEverAfter“

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