CANNES REVIEW: “A Charming Display of Female Friendship and Self-Discovery Within Youth” – ‘As Happy As Possible’ (2019)

Lacking a defined sense of its surroundings, As Happy As Possible (Reves de jeunesse) finds direction in its fantastic women actors.

The beautiful surroundings of Southern France flash by as Salomé (Salomé Richard) is driven to the site of her summer job: a waste plant. It quickly transpires that she must squat here after her employers hand her the wrong house keys before disappearing. Spending her days helping people throw their unwanted items into the trash doesn’t last long, as a series of individuals arrive to make Salomé’s summer a lot more interesting.

The indie comedic drama sandwiches bizarre and comedic sequences, that almost appear as fantasy, alongside the mundane work of Salomé’s job. The film opens with images of a party, where people are staring at their phones and two people dressed as moles dance in the middle of the room without being noticed by anyone. This surreal introduction does not continue strongly throughout the film, instead, the narrative embarks on an exploration of individuals in their twenties, resembling a mumblecore film with a deadpan sense of humour. It transpires that Salomé lived in this area ten years ago; a series of realisations about the history of the place reveals her personal connection to locations and its inhabitants.

As Happy As Possible had the chance to introduce itself as a new version of a mumblecore with the particularly unusual location of the waste plant, yet this interesting landscape is often overlooked. When being driven to the plant by her employer, Salomé looks out at the stunning scenery that morphs into the sparseness of the waste plant. There is a missed opportunity in capturing the beauty of this scenery. There are other featured locations that bare a similar natural beauty, yet the camera seems hesitant to explore them in an original way.

However, the film does indulge in stylised to-camera shots. Colourful blurred fairy lights provide a simple yet effective backdrop for a dance interlude where characters flail their limbs to the music. These brief but surreal moments are a call back to the fantasy-like opening of the film. Sequences appear and dissolve into this narrative, too short or misplaced to have a compelling impact.

Within this character driven narrative, the film lacks dramatic action, but finds its heart within  the interactions between characters. The most enjoyable character that stumbles upon the waste plant and befriends Salomé is Jess (Estelle Meyer). Lost while she is competing on a reality TV survival show, Jess is introduced screaming profanities into a mobile at a show member threatening her disqualification. Debating whether to set off her emergency flare, Jess is a vibrant, energetic and feisty personality that brings a joyous energy to this film. Jess and Salomé are immediate opposites, but this comes at an advantage: the women make a perfect duo. Their pairing ensures both comedic and tender moments of expression. This is the core of the film; the humorous yet emotional bond between these two young women is infectious. It is the strong performances from Meyer and Richard that hold this film together.

An inclusion of a romantic plot finds its place in the story of Salomé’s summer, the interactions being ones that supply backstory and meaning to her trip. This blossoming relationship occasionally appears passive – sequences of developing romance pivot into moments of reflection instead of moving forward in their connection. The most compelling relationship remains between Salomé and Jess.

As an offbeat film, As Happy As Possible indulges in a charming display of female friendship and self-discovery within youth. There is a subtle yet foregrounded sense of lingering poignancy. Another summer has passed and the possibilities of Salomé’s youth continue. This topic of youthful rebellion is an essential part of the film’s narrative. Tackling the idea of young people forging their own way in life, As Happy As Possible is a lovely indie film that embarks on a tale of friendship, and the journey of pondering the future.