Director: Jessica Hausner
Talent: Emily Beecham, Ben Whishaw, Kit Connor
Released: 21 February
Austrian director Jessica Hausner returns after a five year absence with sci-fi feature Little Joe, a detour from her usually quite dour subject matter.
Plant breeder Alice, played by Beecham in dowdy red mop top, is at a pivotal stage in the development of her newest species, nicknamed Little Joe after her son. When cared for properly, the plant has been genetically engineered to omit pollen that creates a level of happiness for those who inhale it. While still unsure of the true qualities of these dispersed spores, Alice brings one home with her to nurture, with unexpected results.
Beecham is great as always, coming across all motherly and world-weary. Ben Whishaw features as love starved lab assistant Chris in a largely unfulfilling subplot role. The central theme, however, focuses on the relationship between mother and son (Kit Connor). The plant’s effect on Joe is a nice metaphorical stand-in for the hormonal changes that all teenagers go through, how parents grapple to let go and understand who their children are becoming, but this metaphor isn’t a shy one and is remarked upon in a number of scenes. Regardless, having the grownups scrambling to understand the plant’s true potential alongside the shape-shifting attributes of adolescence is nonetheless still interesting.
But therein lies the film’s central quandary. It’s interesting. That’s it. I watched and waited to see how things would develop but nothing does. It’s brightly lit and beautifully framed with an interesting, if not wholly original, premise, but the story unfurls in such a flat fashion, limping along without ever really feeling like a sci-fi film and or even a psychological horror. It’s merely a bit creepy. The effect of the plants has a corresponding effect on the storyline and prevents it from really going anywhere. It doesn’t say much for plants either. Things have certainly digressed since the good old days of Frank Oz and Rick Moranis. In the words of Mr. Mushnik: ‘Just because you put a strange and interesting plant in the window doesn’t mean that it’ll bring customers!’ Disappointing.
Words: Shane O’Reilly