But it also shows that films geared toward black women are in full bloom. Based on the novel Happiness is a Four Letter Word by Cynthia Jele, the film version puts a face on her empowered characters and it becomes a must-see treat.
Exploring the lives of three best friends – Nandi (Mmabatho Montsho), Zaza (Khanyi Mbau) and Princess (Renate Stuurman) – who are living in fast-paced Johannesburg, Happiness is a Four Letter Word brings together a uniquely South African story with just enough familiar story lines to make it a safe bet if you’re unsure what to go watch this weekend.
Nandi, Zaza and Princess find themselves negotiating new norms of being black women in a changing South Africa. In a time where wealth and social positions seem to be more important than traditional values, each woman will find out that happiness is not found in a one-size-fits-all box. That’s what makes the film an important release – it’s finally giving insight into the double-edged sword faced by women who have all the convenience of modernity, but also cultural values that need to be respected.
In the film, Nandi is on the fast track to being made partner at her law firm and is engaged to an emerging entrepreneur, Thomas. Montsho manages to encapsulate exactly what the modern woman in business faces when climbing the corporate ladder. As Nandi’s story unfolds, Monthso manages to make Nandi a likable force on the screen and she’s sure to win over new fans for this role.
Zaza is a trophy wife to the wealthy and successful property developer, Bheki. The parallels to Mbau’s own fabulous life are part of the reason she manages to make Zaza believable. Although Mbau will never be the best actress, her presence on screen makes Zaza one of the standout characters. Mbau will always be faced with a challenge to find roles that suit her personality and here she manages to pull it off and she turns into someone you actually love to love.
The two are joined by Princess, the celebrated owner of one of the trendiest art galleries in town. Stuurman as Princess is a standout. She lights up the screen during each of her scenes. South Africa is churning out movies at a rapid rate, but few of them have heart.
Happiness is a Four Letter Word, with its countless appearances of great South African stars (including Pabi Moloi, Emmanuel Castis and Terence Bridgett) as well as a foot-tapping soundtrack featuring Lira, becomes a true South African movie experience. In terms of photography and direction, this chick flick might just become a new modern classic.
But watch this with your girlfriends, this is not a movie for the guys.