Irony of a blunt sort typifies the title of The Happiest Girl in the World, in which a high school girl who has won a car in a popular juice’s promotional campaign goes to the big city to star in a commercial and finds herself very, very unhappy. Radu Jude’s film has many of New Romanian Cinema’s hallmarks, from its long unbroken takes and absence of a traditional score to its ordinary looking actors and air of nonchalant realism. Such an atmosphere is fostered by Marius Panduru’s in-broad-daylight location cinematography but most fully realized thanks to unforced dialogue that resonates strikingly, never more so than in a prolonged argument between leading-lady-for-a-day Delia (Andreea Bosneag) and her mother (Violeta Haret) over the decision to sell the car in order to jumpstart a boarding-house business and pay for Delia’s forthcoming college tuition. In this tête-à-tête, as well as a later, more tempered conversation between Delia and her dad (Doru Catanescu), adolescent selfishness and resentment clash with adult responsibility, pragmatism, and expectations of filial loyalty, with Delia stubbornly refusing to part with the vehicle and her parents guilt-tripping her with reminders of the family’s numerous sacrifices on her behalf.
Youthful self-interest and mature practicality form the film’s main conflict. However, that’s not its only one, as friction also arises from the car commercial’s demand that Delia act joyful and the girl’s petulant misery, as well as between the ad’s propagation of remote achieve-your-dreams fantasy and its underlying purpose of selling a soft drink. Jude and Augustina Stanciu’s script allows these at-odds dichotomies to arise without speechifying or visual italicizing. Yet it also does so without any dramatic or comedic vigor, the plot quickly falling into a routine in which the action alternates between Delia arguing with her guardians and being forced to do repeated commercial takes by a no-nonsense director and the nit-picky producers who find her grumpy performances unacceptable. Conveying tedium far too effectively, the film fixates on close-ups of Delia’s gloomy face while falling into a back-and-forth narrative rut it never quite escapes, its few moments of movie-production humor providing the only faint sparks of energy, and its tense familial bickering ultimately squandering any sense of authentic parent-child dynamics by failing to progress past its starting point in an engaging manner.