Happy End?!, written and directed by the awesomely named Petra Clever, whom you may remember from her successful short film Mermaids, is a delightful and thought-provoking film. What starts out appearing to be the age old “young sheltered rich girl meets wild older woman” trope, soon unfolds into a twisting, turning road trip movie that examines the nature of freedom, dignity and death.
When aspiring lawyer Lucca (Sinha Gierke) begins to experience something of an existential crisis and stumbles into a little trouble, she is sentenced to a few days’ community service at a local hospice. There she meets curly-haired rock chick Val (Verena Wüstkamp), who spends a lot of time at the hospice, visiting her elderly friend Helma and sneakily baking her pot muffins. Intrigued by Val’s rebel nature and her philosophical musings, Lucca tracks her down at lesbian hotspot Sis Bar, where she finds her singing and hooking up with groupies. When Helma passes away and her callous son plans to bury her not in accordance with her wishes, Val hatches a plan to lay her friend to rest the way she would have wanted. Frustrated by the high expectations of her dad, a single father and a lawyer himself, Lucca jumps at the opportunity to join Val on an excursion to Holland and back, not quite realising the full extent of what she’s letting herself in for. As the two women drive through the beautiful German countryside, pursued by the evil son and his stoned airhead daughter, not to mention the police, they begin to form a bond that will change both of their lives in profound ways.
With its offbeat humour and existential themes, this is a rather unconventional film. Though the European setting is picturesque, it never feels like a movie backdrop, instead made tangible and immediate, as the director takes every opportunity to linger on sunlight, sand, tree bark, savouring the small pleasures of quiet moments. Both Gierke and Wüstkamp have a talent for effortlessly transitioning from silly exaggerated emotion to genuine pathos, in a way that feels very genuine and the chemistry between the two actors is undeniable. Sascha Tschorn, who plays Lucca’s young overbearing father, has excellent comic timing and his scenes with the bartender at Sis Bar are some of the films’ best. What really sets this film apart is the surprise turn it takes in the last act, which brings all previous events into a different focus. Uplifting and playful, touching and profound, Happy End?! benefits from being the product of one woman’s vision and it is Clever’s command of the interplay between lightness and darkness that makes this a film you won’t forget in a hurry.
You can rent Happy End?! at Wolfe On Demand.
Francesca Lewis is a queer feminist writer from Yorkshire, UK. She writes for Curve Magazine and The Human Experience as well as writing short fiction and working on a novel. Her ardent love of American pop culture is matched only by her passion for analyzing it completely to death.