By Deanna Costa
Of course, there can be no happiness in modern America without corporate support.
The Happy Place has made it to Boston (through June 2) by way of Toronto, but its mindless LA roots are still bare. For $30, patrons are invited to explore the installation’s six vapid rooms for as long as they like, preferably snapping photos along the way. The Happy Place claims its mission is to maximize visitors’ overall happiness levels. Apparently for some, increased joy can be found by posing in front of a camera in a superficial fun house. In an effort to help you save sanity and money, read on for a taste of what I saw as I breezed through the show in about 20 minutes.
Promoters claim that the installation is an hour-long exhibit. Since my tour took place during a press-only block, the source of the time difference must be due to long lines when the space is at capacity. As guests enter the warehouse-like lobby, they are greeted by a staff member who reminds everyone that cameras are permitted. Throughout the space, people are encouraged to memorialize their experiences among the scenes of larger-than-life nostalgia. Slogans such as “Capture your happy” and “the Most Instagrammable Pop-Up in America” are conspicuously plastered around, summarizing the operation’s profitable M.O. Many of the props and features of the rooms are shoddily put together, but not so poorly that a camera would pick up the flaws. Nothing was present that a filter couldn’t fix.
The first area in the maze-like structure features a friendly staff member passing out small cups of white and yellow M&M’s that are stamped with Happy Place logos. Giant yellow high heels set to the right of the stand look as though they were made out of the same candies. The wear and tear of visitors climbing in and out of the shoes is painfully obvious.
Walking through a heart-shaped archway, the next stop is a X’s & O’s (hugs and kisses) themed room. The only objects on display here are a lip-shaped couch, a four-foot mirrored XO statue, and a sign warning against attempting to climb inside the O’s heart-shaped innards. Evidently, there are limits to how much fun one can have inside the Happy Place Boston.
Moving along the path that leads away from the bright red lips, alcoves with three unique backdrops line each side of a hallway-like stretch. These cramped spaces are nothing more than overpriced photo booths. One rectangle is covered with small, reflective pieces of metal that a five year-old could put together with supplies from a craft store. The following booth is simply filled with rows of hanging white chains, reminiscent of a swing set. The final box is the most interesting of the three: a bath time fantasia that looks more like a bad LSD trip than a source of splendor. Rubber duckies are glued in perfect rows along the walls, all surrounding a bright yellow plastic bathtub, which sits centered in an equally-blinding yellow floor. Yellow ball pit balls of the same hue fill up the tub, beckoning guests to climb inside and toss a few in the air for oh-so-hilarious photo ops.
We’ll jump ahead to the penultimate room, as it is my personal favorite. (The details to be missed along the way are similarly shoddy craftsmanship and tawdry camera tricks.) The lighting design just before the final stage is more sophisticated than elsewhere. The only sources of illumination are dim, grate-covered phosphorescent lights hanging from the high ceiling. The small, dark space is divided by a four foot-tall black metal structure that symbolizes the ground. Four haphazardly arranged rows of matching black ladders are placed underneath the metal bed of fake yellow carnations and goldenrods. Visitors are meant to climb up the short ladders and plant themselves among the ‘natural’ polyester around them. Flowers and plastic crystals hang from fishing wire as they descend from the ceiling — an added millennial touch in the surreal garden.
Of course, there can be no happiness in modern America without corporate support. Hollow phrases such as “Be happy!” and “Did we just become best friends?” line the walls of the landing pad at the end of the installation. A five-foot Dunkin’ Donuts coffee cup is prominently displayed among picnic tables and merch. I asked the press director if the Dunkins features were exclusive to the 500 Boylston Street pop-up. The answer was affirmative; DD is the show’s New England corporate sponsor.
Revelers can thank the hometown heroes for freebies, as two bubbly staff members pass out donuts and coffees next to a lemonade stand. Rather unsurprisingly, there is also a small shop where satisfied customers can purchase t-shirts or jean jackets that are embossed with the exhibit’s smiling yellow logo. Knickknacks such as journals, tiny piñatas, water bottles, metal mugs, and other curios are up for sale at the “Backyard Boutique” as well.
In my view, a more fitting title for this piece would be The Sad State. It is an anthem for a generation that is increasingly escaping to the superficial corners of the internet out of fear of their deeply complicated realities offline. The experience comes off like a fictional television set designed for privileged ’90s babies: the kind of young adults who won’t let go of a childhood that, in retrospect, they realize was pampered. Who else would seriously want to spend an hour in such selfie-indulgent surroundings?
There are reduced prices for children ($20 for ages 4-12, while kids 3 and under are free), but I wouldn’t suggest bringing little ones to the Happy Place. When the doors officially open tomorrow, sorority sisters from the local college scene are sure to descend upon the space. You’ll be walking in with real smiles, and walking out with a toddler whining for mimosas on Newbury Street. No one in Boston needs to see more tantrums, brunch-related or otherwise.
Deanna Costa is a recent graduate of Boston University’s College of Communication, where she earned a B.S. in Journalism with a focus on Magazine Design. During her time at BU, she covered local concerts for on-campus publications in multiple formats. Outside of writing, she routinely interviewed artists and reviewed albums live on her weekly radio show, DJ-ed on campus events, and held the Studio Productions Director position in 2017. Currently, she is a full-time administrative assistant, a freelance music journalist, and a podcast co-host alongside her husband.