Little Joe is a kind of a body-snatchers story in which a corporation is developing a new species of plant, and plant-breeder Alice Woodard (Emily Beecham) decides to bring one home. It’s against company policy, and soon she is living in fear of it and her son is starting to act strangely. The plant is an aggressive pollinator, and that might be what’s causing problems with the kid.
Unfortunately, the film is really up it’s own arse, basically. It completely wants to be a film by Yorgos Langthimos (The Lobster)—it has that sort of tone. But the plot is so basic that in reality, Little Joe is a 40-minute Twilight Zone episode, and that’s stretching it. It falls flat, and in addition, the visuals aren’t really that great, and looks like a made for TV movie. It has a sort of wannabe Wes Anderson production design, but lacks the money and imagination to make that work. As a result, it just doesn’t work. You’ve seen so many versions of the body-snatchers story, but it doesn’t even go that far and It’s not a very engaging film.
Beecham actually won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival for her role, which was a controversial facts as some people, like me, really didn’t like the film. They changed the rules for Cannes after Barton Fink kind of cleaned up everything at the awards, and I would assume that the need to spread the awards out between different films is why she won. Beecham’s performance is fine, but nothing amazing, given it was a year with so many good films up for comparison at the festival. The obvious choice, if they’d been smart about it, would have been to split the award between the two leads in Portrait of a Lady on Fire.
Ben Whishaw stars in the film alongside Beecham, and as usual he’s pretty nondescript. He was very good in A Very English Scandal, but here he doesn’t have much of a role. Little Joe, however, a small, contained movie that needed more ambition—something a lot of British films lack. It’s one of those movies where you feel like the filmmaker actually has contempt for the genre. If you want a film like this to work, it has to be a genre you love.
The BFI disc includes the film in both Blu-Ray and DVD, a BFI interview with director Jessica Hausner, an interview with Beecham in her role, cast and crew Q&A session from the London Film Festival, trailer and a bonus 1910 short, The Birth of a Flower.