The year 2017 saw several usually reliable filmmakers stumbling a bit with their latest films. In October there was Todd Haynes’ ill-advised adaptation of the YA novel Wonderstruck, a film that was technically superb but strangely inert in the storytelling department. And there was the great Alexander Payne’s first certified misfire, Downsizing, which, while not a total disaster, certainly bit off more than it could successfully chew.
If these types of things come in threes then the third exhibit would have to be the German film director Michael Haneke’s latest picture, Happy End. The film is an intriguing misfire, just now appearing in American theaters, that attempts to juggle multiple story lines without successfully bringing any of them to fruition. Story threads that feel like they have much potential are repeatedly introduced but ultimately wind up going flat before coming anywhere near the finish line. It’s a shame because Happy End has greatness in its grasp but is eventually undone simply by the filmmaker spreading himself too thin. This is a problem that could easily have been solved if Haneke had whittled down his narrative load just a bit. Unfortunately his insistence on going in too many different directions sends the film into lackluster territory.
The Laurents are a well to do family living in Northern France. The film’s story focuses on the problems that the various members of the family are facing. There’s George (Jean-Louis Trintignant), the head of the family and owner of the construction company that is the source of the family’s fortune, whose memory is failing him. Then there is his daughter, Anne (Isabelle Huppert) who’s in the midst of taking over her father’s company. Finally, there’s George’s physician son, Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz), whose plate seems to be the fullest as he deals with both his father’s failing health, a new wife and baby and the emotional problems of his daughter from his first marriage. This is what constitutes the film’s narrative thread.
The acting, needless to say, is superb. In particular, the performances by Trintignant and Huppert. Also, the film does manage, from time to time, to have some of the bite found in Haneke’s best work. Unfortunately, there just isn’t enough of it. Perhaps it’s just a symptom of being spoiled by watching a director in better days at the top of his game. While Happy End is far from a bad film, it’s simply not Haneke doing what he does best. Every director has a questionable entry on their resume from time to time and Happy End is that mark on a great director’s otherwise impressive resume.
Image: Scene from Happy End
Happy End is playing at the Regal Ballantyne Village Stadium 5 in Charlotte.
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