A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Expedition Happiness is a travelogue documentary made by a young German couple fulfilling a desire to leave the big city, Berlin, and feed their souls by wandering through natural beauty. They buy an American school bus in North Carolina, convert it to a rolling loft, and set off for Canada, Alaska, the U.S. West Coast, Mexico, and parts south. Visa problems delay them. So does their mountain dog's intolerance for heat, bus repairs, and terrible roads. In general, despite setbacks and challenges, it appears that these two bring their happiness on the trip with them. Expect to hear the words "s--t" and "ass." The travelers fear that soldiers have planted drugs under their bus. They visit a wealthy chili farmer, learning later that he's a renowned drug dealer. They drink tequila.
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What's the story?
EXPEDITION HAPPINESS is a home movie/travelogue about an engaging young German couple's driving trip in the school bus they converted through the United States, Canada, and Mexico. They travel with open hearts, a sense of adventure, and their beloved dog, Rudi. After buying the bus in North Carolina, they spend three months doing the rebuild themselves, just making it across the Canadian border as their visas expire. Shunning the spontaneity-killing notion of planning, they go where curiosity takes them, through Banff National Park and to Alaska, where views are spectacular. The sight of bear, moose, soaring mountains, streams, and lakes feed their souls as they describe the happiness they believed the trip would provide. Felix Starck, the film's producer, and his girlfriend and the film's director, Selima Taibi, a singer-songwriter also known as Mogli, clearly had plenty of happiness when they started out and just took it along on the trip. The goal is to drive straight through to Mexico, Peru, and Argentina, all steps chronicled online and followed by Facebook fans. All goes well, despite a few visa delays, bus repairs, and dog health issues. Eventually, they cut the trip short in Mexico when it becomes clear the dog's health won't hold through the rest of the arduous journey. They return to Germany and surprise their families on Christmas.
Is it any good?
This documentary is little more than 96 minutes with two German city kids who are tired of their cool, big-city Berlin loft and long for fresh air, nature, and new experiences. While they're both enthusiastic and charming, their film offers no special insights into the countries they visit, nor into themselves, for that matter. The photography is lovely and Taibi's often haunting music provides most of the soundtrack. It's great to see sea turtles in the wild and bats fluttering through caves, and moose and bear foraging, but neither Starck nor Taibi make what they show us any more interesting than it would be to look at stock nature footage.
The notion that young Europeans yearn for the great outdoors to feed souls that might otherwise be dampened by crushing city living isn't new, but that doesn't mean that there is nothing to enjoy here. Starck loves sports and travel and made a previous film of his one-year, around-the-world bicycle trek called Pedal the World. And Taibi's enthusiasm for pristine natural surroundings is uplifting, but their spontaneity demonstrates a naivete that allows them to "discover" that driving thousands of miles is more exhausting than they'd imagined. Likewise, the roads are worse than expected. An old bus has mechanical problems. A mountain dog is going to have trouble in the heat of the desert. Brakes melt in Death Valley heat. When the water tank falls off the bus from driving Mexico's pitted roads, and they have no tools to fix it, Felix observes that things "can't be any worse." Really? Plus, there's little real dramatic tension here. And although this is mostly well-edited, when one instance of actual drama occurs -- the dog becomes extremely ill -- the subject is left hanging. Later, we see the dog seems to have recovered, but without any further comment. The pair notes that they wrote the credits, complete with typo, five minutes before Expedition Happiness's premiere.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what people are looking for when they say they're looking for happiness. Do you think happiness is different for everyone? Why?
Do you think you can go somewhere to find happiness? If you are sad in one place, do you think you're likely to bring that sadness with you when you go someplace else?
Felix and Selima seem happy in Expedition Happiness. What do you think made them unhappy before they left Germany?
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