Happy 50 – movie review

Director Eric Lavaine reunites most of the cast of his 2014 ensemble comedy Barbecue and brings them back to reprise their characters for this sequel, which was one of the hits of the recent French Film Festival. Happy 50 is also known as Plancha (“griddle”) in its original French.

Eight years after the events of that film, the group of friends get together for a holiday to celebrate the fiftieth birthday of Yves (Guillaume de Tonquedec). But things go wrong from the outset when their flight to the idyllic Greek island of Pharos is cancelled and there is not another flight until the next week. On a whim Yves decides to invite them all to spend the week with him at Kerzellec, his ancestral home on the coast of Brittany, much to the chagrin of his long-suffering wife Laure (Lysiane Meis). Almost immediately the rain sets in. Tempers flare. Secrets are revealed and tensions rise.

Antoine Chavalier (Lambert Wilson, recently seen in Mrs Harris Goes To Paris) is grumpy and highly critical of just about everyone and everything and is still working his way through some sort of existential crisis and unresolved issues concerning his father who recently passed away. The superstitious Baptiste (Franck Bubosc) is concerned that he is about to lose his job and he is accompanied by his new wife Anna (Caroline Angalade) who suffers his suspicions with barely concealed misgivings. And the perennially sad sack of the group is Laurent (Lionel Abelanski) whose disposition becomes worse and more unbearable when the upbeat Jean-Mich (Jerome Commandeur) joins the group. Laurent seems to resent his happiness and success. His wife Nathalie (Valerie Crouzet) is also a successful businesswoman in her own right and this also feeds into his angst. Antoine has also arranged a surprise gift for Yves – a DNA ancestry chart , but its revelations cause much consternation amongst this group of close friends.

Lavaine cowrote the script with his Barbecue collaborator Hector Cabello Reyes and the film follows the usual tropes of those films which centre around a gathering or reunion. It doesn’t really matter if audiences haven’t seen Barbecue because it is fairly easy to pick up on the group dynamics and relationships. With such a large cast of characters though not everyone gets a chance to shine, and some narrative strands do not really lead anywhere of great interest. Most of the conflicts are resolved reasonably quickly but they lack emotional fireworks.

The ensemble cast seems to develop a nice chemistry and their dynamic seems quite natural. The film has been nicely shot by cinematographer Antoine Roch (No Filter) and he gives us a strong sense of place.

Greg King

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