Writer and director Jessica Hausner wrote and directed Lourdes (2010), an engaging and thought-provoking film about the world-famous shrine in France that millions of people have visited seeking a miracle cure. The film revealed the director's interest in faith, doubt, and the human quest for healing.
Little Joe, her first English-language film, continues this interest, switching the focus to the human desire for happiness. This one also flirts with the science fiction genre, touching on themes of human beings affected by unusual outside forces, as in the classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Alice (Emily Beecham, who won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival for this performance) is very smart English scientist who has been working around the clock on a top-secret genetically engineered plant. It has been bred to be responsive to human interaction. Kept at the proper temperature, given water and nutrients, and talked to (the most important factor), this crimson flower will emit a scent that makes people happy. A single mother, Alice takes one of the plants home as a gift to her teenage son Joe (Kit Connor); they name it "Little Joe."
At work, Alice's enthusiasm for the new plant is matched by her colleague's, Chris (Ben Whishaw). But she begins to have doubts when, after being exposed to the plant's pollen, he begins to act differently. She notices similar symptoms in Joe. As they prepare to unveil the plant at a huge public show, she wonders if they have created much more than they bargained for?
Human history is full of examples of people being willing to pay large sums of money and even change their characters and values in order to escape the pressures of everyday life and experience euphoria. Little Joe dramatizes this process and poses the question to viewers: Just what would you do to be guaranteed happiness?