CHARLIE AND HANNAH’S GRAND NIGHT OUT
Slamdance Film Festival
Director: Bert Scholiers
Charlie and Hannah’s Grand Night Out is as fun, strange and magical as the title implies. It starts off in a fairly ordinary fashion, introducing Charlie (Evelien Bosmans) and Hannah (Daphne Wellens), best friends in their mid-20s on their way to a house party with friends. For Hannah, a night that would probably have started out with some awkward conversations among acquaintances and ended with another one-night-stand with the nice, though dull, Fons (Patrick Vervueren) becomes a wild adventure when Charlie suggests they spice up their night by taking some reality-altering candy (not drugs, just magic) and putting Fons through a series of tests including fetching Tilda Swinton’s scalp and swallowing a nuke. Because what better way is there to know if you’ve found the right guy? As the night progress, the story diverges into two distinct storylines: one following Charlie and Fons, who are making their slow and ponderous way home from the party; and the other Hannah, who has remained, as both girls experience their newly altered realities, reflecting on their lives and exploring new possibilities.
This film is truly charming. It does so many things and so well, from the artsy sets that resemble illustrations from a storybook, to the constant shifting and changing of narrative style, to referencing other film genres. It incorporates sudden changes in cinematography and visual style, and uses historical figures and characters from classical literature, all elements that are pleasantly surprising without being jarring or seeming out of place.
Director and writer Bert Scholiers uses a sense of playfulness and surrealism to explore dark and serious topics in a way that nicely parallels the way Hannah and Charlie deal with, or fail to deal with, the many problems they face in their lives. This surreal take allows for both greater accessibility to these topics and a more direct line into the minds of the characters. In many ways this film is surprising and does a wonderful job exploring Hannah’s character and the traumas she has experienced, but at the same time, the story itself is disappointingly predictable. The things it does well are done so well that it is hard not to overlook the lack of originality in Charlie’s storyline—but in the end, the whole point of an absurdist film is ruined if it doesn’t surprise.
As the film reached its end and the characters made their final decisions, I was waiting for it to subvert my expectations once more, to lead me somewhere before showing me something new. But it didn’t. It went down the same road quirky love stories with quirky female characters who have quirky personalities and problems always seem to go, leaving me nowhere. With a film that was told in such a unique and surprising fashion with so many original twists and turns, I was expecting an equally unique and exciting overall story. This film is excellent in almost every regard, but when all is said and done, Charlie and Hannah’s Grand Night Out doesn’t present the challenge and excitement it promises at its start. –Lois Brady