Ode to Joy, Jason Winer’s return to the cinema screen after 2008’s Arthur remake, takes the traditional romantic comedy story arc and adds a genetic disease into the mix. Unlike films that came before it, the mix of a humorous story with a well-set pace doesn’t make better use of it’s inspired-by-a-true story illness, resulting in the story feeling far too contrived.
Romantic comedies, for all intents and purposes, used be the hottest genre in Hollywood. Whether it’s films like Crazy Stupid Love, When Harry Met Sally, Pretty Woman, or 500 Days of Summer, the genre is one that fans and critics will eat up. Romantic comedies have been getting buried by other movies, possibly due to quality, but there’s been a slight resurgence of the genre, including the recent Netflix release Always Be My Maybe, and Ode to Joy really reminds us how solid these movies can be, with the appropriate care and the right take.
Martin Freeman stars as Charlie, a man with a form of narcolepsy called cataplexy, which leads to fainting-goat syndrome any time he loves life, leaving him unable to experience happiness. Charlie avoids all pleasures in life, including looking at babies, cute dogs, and any form of human decency as he commutes to work at a library. Until one day, Francesca (Morena Baccarin), walks into the library after a breakup. Francesca is a vulnerable woman who “always dates the ones that won’t last.” She looks after her dying aunt and, in doing so, refuses her own happiness; the common theme here.
Ode To Joy keeps humor at the forefront of the narrative and it makes for moments of genuine laughter, most notably scenes involving Melissa Rauch (Bernadette in The Big Bang Theory) as Bethany, Charlie’s incredibly dull love interest. That being said, the use of a medical condition to create a narrative for an otherwise run-of-the-mill rom-com feels cheap, especially when a condition such a narcolepsy, which can cause severe dependency in sufferers’ lives, is made light of to push the plot forward. If you set aside the appearance of medical inaccuracies and allow the film to be the happy-go-lucky romantic comedy it’s attempting to be then Ode to Joy is an easy, predictable watch that will bring a smile to your face.
In that respect, the film is a success. Ode to Joy is a charming and amusing love story of an unconventional romance with an excellent setup, endearing characters, and a show-stopping cello sequence. Framing the story around Charlie’s condition works really well and is appropriately sensitive in where the comedy is mined from. Martin Freeman plays the role perfectly and has great chemistry with Morena Baccarin who also manages to portray a well-developed character. Charlie’s connection to his brother Cooper (Jack Lacy) works well as the core relationship and Melissa Rauch’s Bethany is a delightful addition to the cast at key moments. The film does fall foul of some of the rom-com trappings, but this isn’t enough to detract from the brilliance exhibited elsewhere. Ode to Joy also knows just how to pull on those heart strings, making the story and character development resonate and feel organic.
For more information on Ode To Joy or details on how to find a screening near you, head to IFC Films’s official film website.
In theaters, on VOD, and digital August 9th, 2019.
Final Grade: 4 out of 5