Jason Winer’s Ode to Joy is a rom-com based on a funny premise, that milks it to its greatest extent. Unfortunately, it runs out of steam a little after its brilliant opening. Martin Freeman leads the way with a hilariously understated performance as Charlie, a man who suffers from a disease which causes him to pass out when he experiences any strong emotions, especially Joy. As you’d expect, this has given him struggles in the romantic department. When the radiant Francesca (Morena Baccarin) enters his life, Charlie must learn to conquer his illness and live his life to the fullest. This is a pretty standard romantic affair, but the premise does provide many laughs, particularly in its opening act. Although the film struggles to maintain its great start, it goes through the paces to end on a heart-warming, if expected, high.
Charlie suffers from cataplexy, a form of narcolepsy which causes him to pass out whenever he feels strong emotions. Joy is his specific trigger. As such, Charlie leads a life of restraint, forcing himself to think unhappy thoughts whenever he sees anything remotely cheerful. As his sister (Shannon Woodward) says “I do”, Charlie ruins her wedding service by collapsing into the groom and destroying a lovely display. On his way to work he listens to Wagner’s ‘Funeral March’ to dispel any vestiges of joy from his mind. His is a world of grey.
Working at the library one day, he witnesses a fiery break-up but manages to soothe the passionate Francesca. She immediately takes to his calm, slightly awkward demeanour and with a little encouragement, Charlie just about manages to ask her out for a date. Despite trying his best to make the date depressing, Charlie ultimately passes out when Francesca kisses him and so decides they cannot be together. Soon, Charlie’s brother Cooper (Jake Lacy) begins to date Francesca and Charlie finds he can be around her again, his jealousy overpowering his joy. He believes, to be in love, he must find someone that does not excite him, even a little. Enter the spacey Bethany (Melissa Rauch) as Charlie’s new flame, to set the film’s romantic conflict.
Ode to Joy works best when it uses its premise to its fullest potential, light-heartedly poking fun at Charlie’s condition in increasing numbers of creative manners. When it gets it teeth into romance, it reverts to genre tropes and plays out largely without fanfare. The script is a little Jekyll & Hyde, with moments of brilliant humour coupled with cheap sex jokes that don’t really seem to fit with the intelligence of the rest of the film. The characters, with the exception of Charlie, aren’t brilliantly fleshed out and adhere to stereotypes that you’ve seen many times before. When it does get it right though, the film is incredibly funny.
The opening act, in which we are introduced to Charlie and his disease is excellent, but the film becomes rather forgettable after its first third. Martin Freeman is the strongest actor here, lending Charlie depth as well as pulling off the humour with aplomb. There are good performances across the board, but Freeman steals the show, making Charlie empathetic, but not wholly likeable.
Ode to Joy is an enjoyable comedy with some stand-out moments. It’s never going to hit the highs of some of its genre contemporaries, but it does provide a great deal of laughs. The script is solid, and the performances are strong but the film falls into the trap of the generic rom-com world, failing to carry the strength of it’s hilarious start throughout, though it never fails to be entertaining.
Ewan Wood | [rating=3]
Comedy | USA, 2017 | 15 | 2019 Edinburgh Film Festival | Dir. Jason Winer |Martin Freeman, Morena Baccarin, Jake Lacy, Melissa Rauch, Shannon Woodward