Dir. Franz Müller. Germany/Ireland. 2015. 94mins.
Male bonding and mid-life crises are the messy themes mined by the German-Irish co-production Happy Hour, a film which is most successful when it back-pedals on its comedic aspirations and settles into a more downbeat dramatic groove.
Despite the perpetual drizzle, and all the naked Germans wandering around with axes, Ireland acquits itself well.
Three middle-aged German men take a week’s holiday in rural Ireland to support one through the breakdown of his marriage. There’s an early propensity for scenes involving shouting, forced joviality and wrestling which rarely reach the levels of hilarity intended - or, indeed, any hilarity at all. But once the fault lines in the friendship are exposed, the film becomes more rewarding. The photogenic Irish backdrop and obligatory soundtrack of Guinness-powered folk music add appeal, however it is hard to imagine the theatrical potential of the film extending beyond the borders of Germany and Ireland (where it enjoyed festival bows at Munich and Galway before heading to Tallinn).
Sad sack H.C. (Alexander Hörbe), the perennial butt of the jokes of his lifelong best friends Wolfgang (Simon Licht) and Nic (Mehdi Nebbou), has just been dumped by his wife. After he has finished laughing at H.C.’s latest misfortune, and blurting unsolicited advice, self-appointed alpha male Wolfgang offers the use of his Irish holiday cottage in remote Kerry, on the condition that all three men visit together.
The cottage, with its stringent rules about recycling rubbish, dishwasher etiquette and cleanliness, is a capsule of all that is wrong with Wolfgang’s life. The influence of his wife looms large throughout, but it becomes increasingly clear that she is no longer part of Wolfgang’s world, either in Ireland or at home. Licht strikes a delicate balance with Wolfgang, navigating the character between boorish bully and principled romantic, shot through with the kind of friable self-esteem that men will rarely admit to.
Nic is a rather less complex character – he is a ladies man whose development was arrested somewhere in his promiscuous twenties. He and Wolfgang clash over local divorcee Kat (Susan Swanton). Wolfgang reveres her as an ideal woman; Nic beds her as an available opportunity. Having prompted the trip to Ireland in the first place, H.C. rather fades into the background. The character is not only the least fully realised of the three men, he feels like an inert vacuum at the heart of the film.
Müller’s screenplay combines a perceptive commentary on a certain kind of male friendship which is rooted in competition, with several wacky scenes which presumably looked better on the page than they do on the screen. One such moment is a comedy bonding sequence in which the men decide to chop wood for the fire whilst naked. It works out about as well as you would expect.
The soundtrack to all this midlife angst is a combination of heartfelt bar room ballads performed by Irish cast members, and a bland, Celtic-infused incidental score which waters down the musical appeal of the film substantially.
Despite the perpetual drizzle, and all the naked Germans wandering around with axes, Ireland acquits itself well. The soggy, melancholy beauty is a fittingly pensive backdrop to this tale of middle aged men whose lives have not quite worked out .
Production company: Gringo Films, Ripple World Pictures
International sales: Gringo Films firstname.lastname@example.org
Producers: Sonja Ewers
Screenplay: Franz Müller
Cinematography: Bernhard Keller
Editor: Gesa Jager
Production designer: Utta Hagen
Main cast: Mehdi Nebbou, Simon Licht, Alexander Hörbe, Susan Swanton