Saturday, August 17, 2019

Movie Reviews: Ode to Joy

Ode to Joy
directed by Jason Winer
This is an intermittently humorous though predictable romantic comedy that deftly weaves through some dark passageways before returning to the crowd pleasing formula that typifies the genre. 

Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy must reexamine his life choices and triumph over internal challenges and fears. Hopefully transformed, newly confident boy goes after girl again hoping for second chance.


This film's hero is Charlie (Martin Freeman), a forty something unmarried schlub librarian who works in the Brooklyn Public Library. His sad sack co-workers like Charlie. They wonder if Charlie's gay or asexual because Charlie is never seen in the company of women, nor does he come in on Mondays talking about weekend dates with beautiful ladies.  


Charlie is neither gay nor asexual.  Charlie's problem, which is (not quite hilariously) depicted at the wedding of his little sister Liza (Shannon Woodward) is that he suffers from cataplexy. Any strong emotions, in Charlie's case joy is usually the culprit, trigger blackouts, loss of muscle control, and fainting. It's incurable and embarrassing. At Liza's wedding Charlie fainted and took out at least four people.


Although he can't cure his condition (the prescribed medicine just causes bladder issues) Charlie avoids sudden or extreme bouts of pleasure. Charlie puts tacks in his shoes and keeps slow majestic or depressing classical music on his phone, often Siegfried's Funeral March by Wagner.

Charlie remains in just enough pain and grumpiness to balance out any unplanned happiness. Charlie's world is turned upside down when he encounters a beautiful woman named Francesca (Morena Baccarin). Francesca has come to the library with her boyfriend who has chosen the library to dump her. 


Her boyfriend hopes that Francesca will be inhibited from making a scene. However, the effusive, extroverted, and raucous Francesca isn't ever intimidated from cursing people out or letting everyone know what's on her mind. Sometimes opposites attract. Charlie talks Francesca out of her temper tantrum, displaying his dry humor. 


Charmed, Francesca hints very broadly that Charlie should ask her out. Charlie initially declines but does so later. But Charlie feels too much joy around Francesca. When Francesca invites Charlie to her apartment he faints and hits his head, narrowly avoiding a concussion.



In the hospital, visited by his protective younger brother Cooper (Jake Lacy), Charlie suggests that Cooper, a friendly kindergarten teacher, go out with Francesca. Charlie pretends that this is pure altruism on his part, but he has some hidden purposes. 

Charlie takes up with the quirky and kooky Bethany (Melissa Rauch in a funny and deliberately deglamorized role) a woman who whatever else she is will not trip Charlie's wires as far as platonic or erotic joy is concerned. Freeman nails his role as a stodgy man who claims to be content that life is passing by him ever more quickly. The film squeezes some weak laughs from the fact that Cooper is a heterosexual male kindergarten teacher doing a job that most people expect to be done by women.


Cooper may have a "woman's job" but he's usually as horny as can be and wastes little time trying to close the deal with a suddenly standoffish Francesca. Jane Curtin shows up as Francesca's dying aunt. This might have been a better film if it had been willing to stay with a darker take on love and neediness. Rauch steals her scenes.  This film is inspired by a true story.

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