What We Wanted review – a worthwhile relationship drama

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: November 11, 2020 (Last updated: February 13, 2024)
What We Wanted review – a worthwhile relationship drama


A solid relationship drama and feature debut, Ulrike Kofler’s What We Wanted – this year’s Austrian Oscar contribution – is worth seeking out on Netflix.

It’s a funny old world, hence how What We Wanted, this year’s Austrian Oscar contribution, can swerve a theatrical release and end up with very little ceremony on Netflix. But that doesn’t mean the film, a relationship drama and the directorial debut of editor Ulrike Kofler, should be written off as disposable. It isn’t great, but it’s well worth checking out if you’re into the kind of unflashy arthouse dramas that this film is an example of.

Lavinia Wilson and Elyas M’Barek take center stage as Alice and Niklas, a couple who have struggled for a long time to have children, both naturally and with help, and who’re beginning to break apart at the seams from the physical, emotional, and financial frustration that has built up in the attempts. To decompress they take a holiday to Sardinia that they can scarcely afford, and find themselves temporary neighbors of a seemingly perfect couple-next-door, Romed (Lukas Spisser) and Christl (Anna Unterberger), and their children Denise (Iva Höpperger) and David (Fedor Teyml).

The worsening relationship between Alice and Niklas is well-observed and mostly un-showy, presenting a naturalistic breakdown of communication and overrun of emotion – not entirely dissimilar from Netflix’s own Marriage Story, at least in its intentions. Conversations gradually become circuitous; moments of potential romance fizzle out before they can be realized. You know the score, and the widening of the rift between them works as a dramatic ticking-clock, communicated effectively and often subtly by the leads, and exacerbated by Kofler’s often clever shot composition.

It’s the script, also by Kofler but alongside Sandra Bohle, with contributions from Marie Kreutzer and adapted from a short story by Peter Stamm, that conspires to let What We Wanted down with heavy-handed juxtapositions – the family next door are dismissive of their “accidental” children – and flatter characterizations.

These all-too-obvious storytelling beats strip What We Wanted of some ambiguity, and reach rather perfunctory conclusions of the grass not always being greener, and the seemingly perfect couple not being happy with each or their circumstances. But the strong performances and an assured directorial hand help to offset these weaknesses and keep the film engaging enough for its lean 90-minute runtime. With all that in mind, Netflix might be the best place for it.

Movie Reviews, Movies, Netflix