Sweet Disaster

Director: Laura Lehmus (Germany). Year of Release: 2022

An unusually deserted Berlin-Brandenburg airport. A bright pink rucksack is knocking all the metal executive cases off the baggage carousel from Helsinki. Good. A blonde woman picks up the rucksack, puts it on her back, and gets onto the moving walkway. She reaches an airport bar where a man in a pilot’s uniform is knocking back champagne from the posh glasses. Felix is a bit sad because his fiancée Natalie has decided to up sticks and move to Boston. Without him.

Frida is 40 and regularly phones her father for chats in Finnish, even though he died a while back. Shortly after their encounter in the bar, Frida and Felix are lovingly walking hand in hand through the woods. This you gross misgivings about the way the film is going. We see a visualisation of Frida’s anticipation of a long, and – to any objective observer – deeply boring future with Felix. Fortunately, the scene rewinds and we are returned to brutal reality.

Frida is a kindergarten teacher who gets maybe a little too involved with her charges. When she notices that one boy always arrives hungry, she pays an unwelcome house visit to his mother, who is not too keen with her intervention. But Frida is not a typical interfering middle class do gooder. For a start, unlike many film characters, she lives in the same sort of modest flat that real people have – about 70m2, but with infuriatingly loud building works outside at regular intervals.

On one of these intervals, Frida rushes out dressed just in a towel, to ask them to keep the noise down a bit. As the front door slams shut, she realises that she’s missing her keys. Frida enlists the help of Yolanda, the neighbour’s kid, who uses her mobile drone to retrieve Frida’s keys. Frida and Yolanda form a bond – although Frida is an eternal optimist and Yolanda full of teenage angst, they neither seem to be quite in tune with how the world would like them to be.

Yolanda is 15, and a nascent engineer. She has constructed an elaborate set of bolts on her bedroom door made up of Barbie dolls. Yolanda is looking forward to a year off in a school in Canada, although her controlling mother tells her there is no way that she’ll be allowed to go. Maybe this is why she walks around with a permanently sullen scowl, and wears a woollen hat of the type once favoured by Evan Dando.

A couple of months into her relationship with Felix, Frida is worried that when she rings him at work, they tell her he’s not in today. Suspecting an affair, she recruits Yolanda and her drone to spy on Felix. This is when she learns that Natalie is back in town, and that Felix is keen on carrying the relationship from where they left off. Maybe this is not the time to tell him that Frida is pregnant.

What started looking like a bland romcom with no dramatic tension gains increasing depth. More and more jeopardy piles on to Frida’s precarious existence. After a mother complains when Frida vomits her house, Frida’s pregnancy is outed. She is told that she can’t work in the kindergarten, and shouldn’t bother coming back after the birth. The benefits agency puts her on the lowest possible social security and tells her she’ll have to find an even smaller and louder place to live.

Frida has already been posting ultrasound scans on Natalie’s facebook page, Now decides to up the ante. She breaks into Felix’s flat and smashes all his stuff. One thing leads to another and she ends up putting glue in Natalie’s shampoo. Later, she takes a reluctant Yolanda to track Felix and Natalie down on one of their loving walks and dive bomb them with the drone. Each time she’s mean to Natalie, she’s almost immediately remorseful, but it doesn’t stop her from repeat offending.

Sweet Disaster is not afraid to take whimsical diversions which show that we should not believe everything we view. Whether magical realist cartoon excursions, a Greek chorus of card playing old ladies, or the school bus that plays old Baywatch episodes to the kids inside, the film is not short of quirk. If handled slightly wrongly, it would be utterly infuriating. There are so many ways in which Sweet Disaster could have got it very wrong. It is amazing that it doesn’t-

If Frida were too nice she would be just annoying, but if she were too much of an oddball her character wouldn’t ring true. She’s a Manic Pixie Dream Girl waiting to happen. Maybe it’s because of the female director, but Frida’s inability to cope with life is never used to make her seem more attractive to the male gaze. We don’t view Frida’s problems to help some men feel protective of her. They’re there to show us that life is, indeed, problematic, especially for working class women.

And, ultimately, who can resist a film which contains a guest appearance by David Hasselhoff (as himself, who else?) Since appearing in a load of naff 80s tv programmes and single handedly bringing down the Berlin wall, Hasselhoff has developed a sense of self-awareness so great that his mere presence shows that a film is aware of its own ridiculous. Sweet Disaster is deeply tragic. It does cover serious issues affecting older pregnant women. But above all, it’s a heap of fun.

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