14 Movies Like Happiness for Beginners (2023)

Staff & contributors

Chasing the feel of watching Happiness for Beginners ? Here are the movies we recommend you watch right after.

Sanitized, predictable, and utterly cheesy, Happiness for Beginners feels like one of those TV movies made to fill the time in between the stuff people actually watch. It’s baffling how wasted Kemper is here; the actress’ signature pep, which was fully utilized in shows like The Office and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, is nowhere to be found. She plays a grump who, by the sheer power of love and friendship, transforms into a happier person, but even then we see no trace of Kemper’s infectious energy. It was hinted that Kemper’s character, Helen, struggles with depression, but the film is either unwilling or incapable of digging further and offering Helen actual solutions, like therapy or medicine. The movie’s saving grace is the ensemble behind Kemp, who thankfully are able to exercise their comic chops. Nico Santos, Ben Cook, and Gus Birney deserve a special mention for their full-bodied and entertaining performances.

The title of this small-scale comedy drama alludes to an aspect of creativity that isn’t inherently cinematic but which is necessary if you’re going to make anything: just showing up and doing the work. Kelly Reichardt’s filmmaking is in keeping with that focus: this is a gentle movie, full of the patience the art-making process requires and which has always characterized her contributions to “slow cinema.” 

The film is set in a small creative community where the prickly Lizzy (Michelle Williams) works in administration at an arts center and perfects her sculptures for her upcoming solo show. Her efforts are hampered by small daily dramas, though, like the pigeon whose wing her naughty kitty has broken or the friends of her father who lightly exploit his hospitality. And then there’s her neighbor and landlord Jo (Hong Chau), a rising star of an artist who inspires thorny feelings of inadequacy in the only moderately successful Lizzy. Reichardt and Williams deftly explore these insecurities, subtly suggesting that one-sided resentments like Lizzy’s are easily dissolved with a bit of human connection. These gentle moments of insight are rewarding, but it should be noted that your mileage may vary with Showing Up’s insular art world focus and Reichardt’s more unhurried-than-ever pace.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Amanda Plummer, André 3000, Bahni Turpin, Heather Lawless, Hong Chau, Izabel Mar, James Le Gros, Jean-Luc Boucherot, John Magaro, Judd Hirsch, Kristina Haddad, Lauren Lakis, Maryann Plunkett, Matt Malloy, Michelle Williams, Orianna Milne, Sam Kamerman, Teal Sherer, Ted Rooney, Theo Taplitz

Director: Kelly Reichardt

Watching Love at First Sight, there are times you catch it almost falling into eye-rolling clichés, like when Hadley loses Oliver’s number or when their first kiss is interrupted by someone suddenly opening the door. But the film’s self-assured and self-aware charm subverts conventions and saves it from being just another cheesy rom-com you’d sooner skip on Netflix. The statistic-heavy narration by Jameela Jamil manages to be both amusing and romantic, and casting Jamil as an omnipresent chameleon who is fate-personified is an inspired move that helps the film move along smoothly. Though they lack sensual chemistry, Richardson and Hardy are individually, abundantly charming. It’s hard not to be moved by their stories, as common as they may be in movies like this. Love at First Sight is fluffy and familiar, but it is also the sort of heartwarming fare you’ll want to watch again and again, especially at Christmastime, when the movie is set.  

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Andromeda Godfrey, Anthony Warren, Ben Hardy, Dexter Fletcher, Doña Croll, Haley Lu Richardson, Ibinabo Jack, Jameela Jamil, Jessica Ransom, Katrina Nare, Kerry Howard, Philip Bird, Rob Delaney, Sally Phillips, Sam Booth, Tom Taylor, Tracy Wiles

Director: Vanessa Caswill

Rating: PG-13

True to its name, Joy Ride is a raucous delight that has everything you want out of a road trip comedy and more. There’s love, sex, adventure, and even music, but most of all there’s friendship, the interesting complexities of which are explored against the backdrop of race. There’s something meaningful keeping everything together at the core, and first-time director Adele Lim—helped by a strong script and cast—does an excellent job of holding it down. The film is also just plain funny. There are physical gags and of-the-moment jokes, plus a couple of insider quips made for and by the Asian community. But apart from the hilarity and tenderness, the film also delivers in the visual department: it looks gorgeous, not only because the characters are tourists who embark on a jet-setting adventure, but because of the inspired animation and vibrant editing. 

Genre: Comedy

Actor: Alexander Hodge, Annie Mumolo, Ashley Park, Baron Davis, Chris Pang, Daniel Dae Kim, David Denman, Debbie Fan, Desmond Chiam, Isla Rose Hall, Lori Tan Chinn, Meredith Hagner, Ronny Chieng, Sherry Cola, Stephanie Hsu, Timothy Simons

Director: Adele Lim

Rating: R

Freediving is a particularly cinematic sport because it taps into something beyond what the human body is capable of. Skilled divers hold their breath for long enough to reach more than 100 meters deep, and watching footage of that incredible feat is exhilarating, to say the least. The Deepest Breath capitalizes on that very spectacle—being exposed to death and conquering it—and banks on using archival footage of world records and training. It's a smart move, as it keeps the spectator on edge, but it can also be a cruel way to put thrills over ethics. The editing is kept suggestive, but sometimes, shamefully, at the cost of misrepresenting Alessia Zecchini and toying with the viewer's expectations to the point of callousness.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Alessia Zecchini, David Attenborough, Natalya Molchanova, Stephen Keenan

Director: Laura McGann

Rating: PG

The latest installment in Netflix'S “Unknown” docuseries, Unknown: Killer Robots puts the evolution of artificial intelligence under an ethical microscope. Although the title could be misleading, it does cover the possible dangerous applications of AI as it forces us to question the growing divide between human morality and machine efficiency. With advances in war and medicinal applications, the capabilities of AI to heal, save and destroy are terrifying and awe-inspiring in equal measure. Like the previous films in the series, it is hyper-concentrated to an almost-stifling degree, but it’s also powered by the passionate subjects on either side of these advancements. Forgoing sensationalism, this digestible documentary questions intention over the technology itself. 

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Director: Jesse Sweet

Between Air, Pinball, Blackberry, and Tetris (is nothing sacred anymore?), 2023 has seen its fair share of business biopics. Unfortunately for The Beanie Bubble, it’s coming at the tail end of a trend that has overstayed its welcome in theaters. The Beanie Bubble isn’t very different from its predecessors in that it depicts its product as revolutionary and game-changing for the industry (it’s really not) and attempts to simplify the business phenom via cute graphics and quirky dialogue. Those aspects of the film are fine, if a bit forgettable, but The Beanie Bubble deserves some praise for exploring the power imbalance between Warner and his female partners, whose ideas he milked to no end. Robbie (Elizabeth Banks), Sheila (Sarah Snook), and Maya (Geraldine Viswanathan) are the ones telling this story, and even though the constant time hopping can get irritating, there are times when it feels inspired, like when Robbie starts one sentence and Maya ends her thought. They may be years apart but they’re all falling victim to the same greedy man who has a pattern of exploiting the talented women around him. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Adelle Drahos, Ajay Friese, Brian Troxell, Carl Clemons-Hopkins, Chris Mayers, Delaney Quinn, Elizabeth Banks, Geraldine Viswanathan, Hari Dhillon, Jason Burkey, Javier Vazquez Jr., Jeff Schine, Julia Farino, Kurt Yaeger, Laura Palka, Laura Whyte, Madison Johnson, Mariana Novak, Myke Holmes, Paul Kim, Paul Ryden, Robert Mello, Sam Salary, Sarah Snook, Scott Hanson, Stephanie Hong, Sweta Keswani, Tracey Bonner, Veanna Black, Vince Pisani, Zach Galifianakis

Director: Damian Kulash, Kristin Gore

Rating: R

, 2023

Set in the quaint city of Burlington, Vermont, Paint is a cute and folksy comedy that has a Wes Anderson-esque charm to it. The characters are dressed in blocked pastels and wooly sweaters, while the protagonist Carl seems stuck in the ‘70s, and not just sartorially, too. He drives a “Vantastic” custom van, swears off cell phones, and manages to incorporate phrases like “far out” in his daily lingo. It all makes for whimsical viewing, but underneath the flair, there’s very little substance holding this picture up. It tells the tale of an aging narcissist who learns the error of his ways when a younger version of himself is hired to aid and eventually replace him. Narratively, it’s familiar and forgettable, and it becomes immediately clear that style is a crutch that the film leans on. It’s funny, at times, thanks to a very likable Wilson and a strong supporting cast (there are occasional laugh-out-loud moments too, like when Carl does the big reveal about his portrait). But ultimately, it’s just too flat to be as special as the art it admires. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Ciara Renée, Denny Dillon, Evander Duck Jr., Joel Leffert, Lusia Strus, Michael Pemberton, Michaela Watkins, Owen Wilson, Ryan Czerwonko, Ryan Gaul, Sarah Baker, Scott Beehner, Stephen Root, Wendi McLendon-Covey

Director: Brit McAdams

Love Again is cute. It’s cheesy and predictable, but it’s cute. Chopra makes for a fine leading lady who is able to switch between sorrow and sappy in a heartbeat. Heughan, though painfully generic, isn’t all that bad either; his hopelessly awkward attempts at getting Mira’s attention provides much of the film’s needed laughs. But outside of the bare minimum, Love Again doesn’t give us anything of value. The jokes are few and far between and the chemistry, if you can believe it, is even thinner. And for two people who are supposedly writers (Mira is children book’s author and Rob is a music journalist), none of their writings, much less their texts to one another, are particularly good. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Amanda Blake, Arinzé Kene, Celia Imrie, Céline Dion, Harry Attwell, Lydia West, Nick Jonas, Omid Djalili, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Russell Tovey, Sam Heughan, Sofia Barclay, Steve Oram

Director: Jim Strouse

Rating: PG-13

Between the film’s non-existent marketing and Hollywood's ongoing writers' strike, I knew not to expect much from Heart of Stone, Netflix’s latest direct-to-streaming outing. And sure enough, the spy thriller proved to be a mediocre watch. The plot is facile and generic, another one of those attempts at justifying AI and government data breaches. The acting is subpar, which is expected from the ever-stoic Gal Gadot. About the only good thing you can say about it is that it has entertaining action sequences. Gadot is precise and terrifying, a stunt wonder made for the genre. Now if only the acting matched the action, then maybe the film wouldn’t feel as plain and wooden. 

Genre: Action, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Alia Bhatt, Archie Madekwe, BD Wong, Enzo Cilenti, Gal Gadot, Glenn Close, Jamie Dornan, Jing Lusi, Jon Kortajarena, Jónas Alfreð Birkisson, Luca Fiamenghi, Mark Ivanir, Matthias Schweighöfer, Neran Persaud, Paul Ready, Roy Sampson, Sophie Okonedo, Thomas Arnold

Director: Tom Harper

Rating: PG-13

For those familiar with the movie In Time, this German Netflix thriller has a similar premise, but with a few changes. Time is exchanged for money, instead of entirely replacing it. Time donation also acts more like blood donation – there needs some DNA compatibility to do so and more prominent individuals are prioritized for these exchanges. Paradise’s world also hasn’t figured out how to completely stop aging. These changes come with a side of more overt anti-capitalist commentary, so the movie could have had a more focused and critical approach to the time donation. However, like In Time, Paradise quickly devolves into the sci-fi thriller shenanigans we’re all familiar with, but without any of the spectacle.

Genre: Action, Science Fiction, Thriller

Actor: Aistė Diržiūtė, Aleyna Cara, Alina Levshin, Andreas Windhuis, Clovis Kasanda, Corinna Kirchhoff, Dalila Abdallah, Eglė Lekstutytė, Haley Louise Jones, Iris Berben, Kostja Ullmann, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Lisa-Marie Koroll, Lorna Ishema, Lucas Lynggaard Tønnesen, Lukas von Horbatschewsky, Marlene Tanczik, Matthias Ziesing, Numan Acar, Simon Amberger, Tom Böttcher

Director: Boris Kunz

Rating: R

Beat for beat, word for word, Love is in the Air moves just like any other romantic comedy. Within that genre, it slots easily into the category of romcoms that follow a city guy who falls in love with a country girl, eventually learning and preferring the ways of small-town living. But Love in Air is even more improbable than usual because of how eerily perfect the two leads are. Goodrem, in particular, is always manicured to perfection, which makes her role as a down-to-earth no-nonsense go-getter very hard to believe. Still, the movie isn’t entirely unwatchable. There are pockets of humor to be found, and the stunning visuals almost make it worth the watch. Almost.  

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Craig Walker, Delta Goodrem, Hugh Parker, Joshua Sasse, Mia Grunwald, Roy Billing, Simon McLachlan, Steph Tisdell

Director: Adrian Powers

Rating: PG-13

Playing the lead in an addiction drama has long been shorthand for “I’m a serious actor,” but that’s not something Florence Pugh needs to convince us of, especially not when the drama is as contrived as A Good Person is. Though it has a solid foundation from which to explore worthy subjects — Pugh’s character Allison begins abusing painkillers after accidentally causing the death of two people in a car accident —  writer-director Zach Braff overstuffs the film with too many distractingly histrionic happenings for a compelling reflection on guilt and forgiveness to really emerge.

What’s more, any potential A Good Person has is squandered by the film’s frequent and bizarre tonal swerves from tearjerking sincerity to generational comedy, a jarring effect mimicked by the soundtrack’s wild veering from moody melodies to bright piano music in a single cut. Though Pugh does her customary excellent work here, she’s ultimately undermined by all the overlong, transparently manufactured, and downright whiplash-inducing melodrama around her.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alex Wolff, Brian Rojas, Celeste O'Connor, Chinaza Uche, Florence Pugh, Jackie Hoffman, Jessie Mueller, Lauren Yaffe, Molly Shannon, Morgan Freeman, Nichelle Hines, Ryann Redmond, Sydney Morton, Toby Onwumere, Victor Cruz, Zoe Lister-Jones

Director: Zach Braff

You ought to know what you’re getting into with a movie like The Out-Laws, a production from the Adam Sandler-founded Happy Madison banner that’s behind such lofty cinematic heights as Grown Ups and Paul Blart: Mall Cop. Even in that charitable frame of reference, though, The Out-Laws feels, even more than usual, like a tax write-off for its creators and a sweet solely-for-the-paycheck gig for its starry cast, who don’t have to do much by way of actual dramatic work here. The perfunctory editing and bland direction often seem disinterested in (or, perhaps, embarrassed by) most of the script’s attempts to be funny, and so the film rushes through its scenario, which is only mildly amusing to begin with. In a movie like this, that’s more of a blessing than a curse, even if it does mean some of its better moments get short shrift from the whistlestop treatment. All in all, even as Happy Madison vehicles go, this is an utterly forgettable 95 minutes — the kind you’ll barely even be able to recall by the time the credits roll.

Genre: Action, Comedy, Romance

Actor: Adam Devine, Anthony Belevtsov, Betsy Sodaro, Blake Anderson, Cale Schultz, Dean Winters, Derek Russo, Ellen Barkin, Jackie Sandler, Julie Hagerty, Laci Mosley, Lauren Lapkus, Lil Rel Howery, Lynne Ashe, Michael Rooker, Mo Gallini, Nina Dobrev, Otis Winston, Peggy Walton-Walker, Pierce Brosnan, Poorna Jagannathan, Reyn Doi, Richard Kind, Sunny Sandler, Tywayne Wheatt

Director: Tyler Spindel

Rating: R

What a waste of a premise, and what a waste of Woodley’s talents. Based on the short story “The Robot Who Looked Like Me” by Robert Sheckley, Robots has some clever things to say about the state of advanced tech and its role in society, but its clumsy, heavyhanded approach fumbles the execution. There’s an awkward and unfinished feel to Robots that doesn’t make anything about it believable—not the technology, not the convoluted story, and certainly not the romance. And except for Woodley, none of the characters seem likable. The male-dominated cast makes constant jokes about fatness and femininity, presumably for the sake of satire, but they end up participating in the very things they’re supposedly calling out. It’s not nearly as smart nor as charming as it thinks it is, and if you’re looking for an alternative, I would recommend the far superior German film I’m Your Man, which accomplishes everything Robots tries to be and more. 

Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Romance, Science Fiction

Actor: Case Matthews, Casey Messer, Charles Grisham, Chelsea Edmundson, David Grant Wright, Emanuela Postacchini, Hank Rogerson, Jack Whitehall, Jackamoe Buzzell, Keith Campbell, Kevin Foster, Leslie Fleming-Mitchell, Nick Rutherford, Paul Jurewicz, Paul Rust, Richard Lippert, Samantha Gonzalez, Shailene Woodley, Tiffany Adams

Director: Anthony Hines, Casper Christensen

Rating: R