Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Little Joe

Yes, I do a "Movie A is like Move B plus Movie C" below. I'm not proud.

I do really dig this one, though, even if it caught my eye in large part because it stars Emily Beecham, who was a standout on Into the Badlands and whom I kind of assume would wind up doing more action-oriented stuff as a result (because she is really good and game for anything they asked on that). This isn't that, but that just makes me more interested in seeing what she can do. She's really good here, including one of my favorite moments at the end (which I'll get to at the bottom of the post).

So, very nice, and I'm sorry not to get a review done earlier because it's just got a day or two left at Kendall Square. After that, it's streamable, and I'm just putting it out there that it would make a nifty double-feature with Aniara if the Brattle wants to do an indie sci-fi double feature as part of their "Best of 2019" series next month.

Little Joe

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 9 December 2019 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, DCP)

Little Joe approaches Invasion of the Body Snatchers by way of Gattaca, and while that may not exactly be a description that excites those who like their science fiction with a lot of action, it is all kinds of my thing. It's got the sort of unsettling ideas that get examined later, all the more so because the filmmakers are willing to look at things from angles where the alarm (and lack thereof) can come from unexpected directions.

The title refers to a new breed of flower from Planthouse Biotechnologies, which is doing something unusual in the bioengineering space - while most plants are built for hardiness and ease of care, this tends to sacrifice color and aroma. Little Joe requires a lot of care, but its colors and scent are brilliant, and its pollen, while engineered to be sterile, contains an oxytocin precursor; it chemically makes those who smell it happy. It's the work of Alice Woodard (Emily Beecham) and her partner Chris, sure to be the hit at an upcoming flower show, and she's brought one home for her son Joe (Kit Connor), though that's technically against all sorts of rules. It's just that this flower produces a lot of pollen - maybe enough to asphyxiate the other flowers in the same hothouse room - and their co-worker Bella (Kerry Fox) says her dog is acting different. But Bella's got a history of mental illness, and had to accept a demotion to come back to work, so why worry too much?

If the film has a flaw, it's that Bella sometimes seems a little too close to the mark with her hippie rantings about how making flowers sterile is unnatural and the excess pollen is the flowers fighting that, making and making people serve them. It's useful, at points - director Jessica Hausner and co-writer GĂ©raldine Bajard can keep the audience in a skeptical place long after they would normally become impatient with people discounting the weird stuff going on - but because the movie needs that to keep things pushing forward, it doesn't have time to grapple directly with all of the other ways a flower that makes people happy could be unsettling, from the capitalist impulse to link happiness with work to how some tests seem to dissociate. Hausner and Bajard's script has everything line up, but bits like how Bella decides her dog is no longer her dog or how Little Joe compares to Alice's psychotherapy are mostly left for discussion afterward.

Full review on EFilmCritic


Just a couple of small "Body Snatchers" type things that I really liked in this movie: First, Jessie Mae Alonzo seemingly overdoing it after Joe's girlfriend Selma inhales a bunch of spores and creeping Alice out, although it's not hard to recast that as Selma also being intimidated by Joe's kind of brilliant, weird mother. Second, Beecham's cheery "I've got work to do" as she drops her son off with his father for the last time - it really underlines how much Little Joe creates happiness instead of just content obedience, how an underlying theme is that she sometimes felt bad about occasionally enjoying her work more than being a mother, and how everyone under Little Joe's influence is probably okay with the chemicals clarifying that for her. It's not conventionally chilling like Donald Sutherland at the end of the 70s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but it probably gets at how we're going to use science to create that sort of apocalypse more directly.


No comments: