Film Review: Happy End
Happy End tells the story of a wealthy French family with dark and disturbing secrets. From the outside, the Laurent family looks wealthy, polished, and accomplished, from the inside we see a lot of problems.
I was very excited to see Happy End as I am a true fan of Michael Haneke’s work (Amour, The Piano Teacher, Caché, The White Ribbon, Funny Games). Like his other films, Happy End deals with interpersonal relationships and the potential darkness of humanity. However, it really lacks the intrigue and development of Haneke’s other work. This film is disjointed, strange, and uncomfortable at times.
In Happy End, there is no soundtrack or musical score. You are left in silence to the various ambient noises of the characters and their lives. One particular scene is of the family dog barking outside the French doors of the Laurent’s estate. The dog desperately wants to come in and be united with its master, incessantly barking. The scene goes on way too long and eventually I felt as if I was the dog, stuck outside. I think that was the point of the scene?
When the 13-year-old granddaughter is packing up her belongings to go live with her dad, you hear only the sound of her packing, I didn’t even know packing could sound like anything, while birds chirp outside her window. It gives you the strange feeling of being a voyeur in someone’s home. Although these are merely little snippets of a larger film, the entire film felt like a bunch of behind the scenes fragments into a family that I really didn’t want to get to know that much.
I left the film feeling a bit underwhelmed, maybe partly because I had high hopes. I will give the film credit for taking risks and for tackling a variety of topics including but not limited to: aging, divorce, death, dementia, infidelity, murder, social media, overdoses, suicide, mental illness, refugees, wealth disparity… and karaoke of the Sia song “Chandelier” (probably the best part of the film). Also, I will always tout the praises of Isabelle Huppert, a true gem of French cinema, playing the role of the daughter Laurent that has taken over the family business.
Take it or leave it, Happy End holds your interest, even if you don’t want it to.
Happy End is playing at the Riviera Theater through January 30.