Interesting, thought-provoking but not a laughing matter
Billed as “a brave and hilarious story”, ‘The Happy Housewife' does have comic episodes and a happy ending, but I'm not so sure that plummeting into post-natal depression and a stay at a psychiatric hospital following a difficult birth is a laughing matter.
Lea Meyer is a vivacious, confident woman with an exciting career as a stewardess and a rich home and social life with her loving husband Harry, who has his own demanding career in property development.
They live in a beautiful, modern home in an upscale neighbourhood. In short, life is perfect for Lea. After six years of marriage, however, Harry wants a child his own child, not an adoptee despite the fact that he's never home. He blithely suggests that Lea stay off the pill, give up her career and become a stay-at-home mum, and following a period of exuberant sex, she duly becomes pregnant.
The onset of labour sees Lea coping with birth pangs while Harry and the midwife Machteld discuss take-out menus. Later, at the hospital, Harry discusses golf handicaps with the obstetrician while Lea rides a wave of Pethidine (Demerol) on the hospital bed. While funny on the one hand, these episodes paint Harry as narcissistic a trait developed as the plot evolves.
Lea, who didn't really want a child in the first place, doesn't bond with her son, and seeks affection and reassurance from a husband more interested in his heir than his wife.
What follows is a convincing portrayal of a plunge into depression, which culminates in Lea attempting to get rid of the baby so they can have their old life back. Harry, supported by his mother-in-law, commits Lea to a period in a psychiatric hospital where she learns to come to terms with her father's suicide many years earlier and begins the slow, painful climb to sanity.
Carice Van Houten's portrayal of the depressive, delusional young mother is masterful, creating a believable and sympathetic character, and there are some great cameos of the hospital's clients, particularly the avuncular Theo. Less sympathetic is Waldemar Torenstra's Harry, whose role as sensitive father conflicts with that of unsupportive, suspicious husband.
This is an interesting, thought-provoking film, but hardly a barrel of laughs.