Jessica Hausner’s science fiction drama LITTLE JOE – HAPPINESS IS A BUSINESS takes a dystopian look at plant breeding of the future. This is less cumbersome than expected but not nearly as successful as it could be. We reveal more about this in our review.
Alice’s colleague Chris (Ben Whishaw) at work.
The plot summary
Single mother and scientist Alice (Emily Beecham) is completely dedicated to her profession. As a botanist, she has created a purple flower that has a very unique effect – at the ideal room temperature and with sufficient attention, its scent makes people happy! Alice secretly takes one of the plants home for her 13-year-old son Joe; they call her “Little Joe”. But the more the mysterious flower grows, the more the people around Alice change. She increasingly suspects that her creation may not be as harmless and auspicious as originally planned…
Little Joe Movie Meaning & ending
The Netflix series “Black Mirror” has become one of the streaming service’s flagships with its dystopian short stories about the bleak prospects of coexistence between humans and technology. So it’s no wonder that “Black Mirror” is often used as a comparison in the context of films when a science fiction material is somehow roughly reminiscent of the concept of the anthology format. But that doesn’t always automatically mean something positive; This is also the case with Jessica Hausner’s “Little Joe – Happiness is a Business”. The ingredients are clearly reminiscent of a “Black Mirror” episode: the main character Alice grows plants that are supposed to bring their buyer luck. But the methods used in plant breeding are slowly turning against them and their colleagues. In the end, the moral is that as a human being you should never mess around with nature too much, i.e. play God. The conclusion from this is obvious: “Little Joe – Happiness is a Business” would, at least with only half the running time, be a successful, if not very innovative, “Black Mirror” episode, but as a feature film twice as long it simply doesn’t have it enough narrative traction to not be boring most of the time. But “Little Joe” does have one thing: style.
Alice (Emily Beecham) and her son Joe (Kit Connor) having dinner together.
Jessica Hausner ( Amour fou”) comes down to two tricks. On the one hand, there is the consistent reduction of the narrative speed. “Little Joe” impresses (or, alternatively, annoys) with a truly creeping pace. Regardless of whether it is dialogue, shots in which characters run from A to B or the camera once again captures the plants in their growth process and the scientists in their amazement: every movement, every action in “Little Joe” is celebrated and savored. This gives the film its very own atmosphere, but after the fifth unnecessary pause in a dialogue that actually only serves a brief exchange of facts, you start to wonder a little about the meaning behind it. “Little Joe – Happiness is a Business” clearly focuses on the production style and less on the plot. It’s as if Jessica Hausner knew full well that she could never carry the film alone. On the other hand, it is Martin Gschlacht’s camera work (“Silent Reserves”) , which draws its expressive strength from the coolness of the sterile set pieces, and which keeps you glued to the screen; paired with an experimental score dominated by sharp strings that acoustically conjures up jump scares where the scenario on the screen actually doesn’t provide any.
In general, of course, there is nothing wrong with a straight narrative style. In today’s genre cinema, it’s even quite relaxing to watch an author (Jessica Hausner also wrote the script herself) not rely on a twist that overturns everything seen before, but rather her vision of a biting commentary on the future and science consistently and without any form of narrative sensationalism. At the same time, “Little Joe – Happiness is a Business” is also just a lively hodgepodge of genre pieces that make the film as a whole appear eclectic. A little bit of “The Happening” here, a big pinch of “The body eaters are coming” there and just a message that you would find in the aforementioned Netflix series with the black mirror in the title: In the end, “Little Joe” is a little bit of a lot of things , but apart from the directorial independence (which, if you really think about it, you could also attribute to someone like “The Favourite” director Yorgos Lanthimos), it can hardly boast of any unique selling points.
The main character, the single mother and researcher Alice, who is the focus of “Little Joe,” also gets short shrift overall. Emily Beecham, who won a prize at the Cannes Film Festival, is credited with her increasing fascination with the plant (“Hail, Caesar!”) written on your face at any time. The British actress also expresses her inner conflict between self-sacrificing motherhood and her passionate work as a scientist in an excellent and believable way. But due to the over-stylized dialogue and her character’s particularly affected gestures in the context of the production, her Alice never seems like a real character, but rather like a forced cinematic character. The same applies especially to Kit Connor (“Rocketman”) as the film’s son Joe. Long before the plot dictates that some of the characters in “Little Joe” show striking changes in their attitudes, both the mother-son team and many of Alice’s colleagues act coldly and unemotionally. Only Ben Whishaw (“James Bond 007: Specter”) stands out as the only half-human character – and seems out of place in an otherwise perfectly designed film. In the end, “Little Joe – Happiness is a Business” seems more like an experiment than a film. And directors like Yorgos Lanthimos can simply do that better…
Conclusion: “Little Joe – Happiness is a Business” celebrates a respectable style, but has little more to offer in terms of narrative than a series of “The Body Snatchers Are Coming” set pieces. The sci-fi drama would be better off as a half-as-long “Black Mirror” episode.
“Little Joe – Happiness is a Business” can be seen in selected USA cinemas from January 9th.