Ode to Joy, 2019, 1 ½ stars

Joyless

Romantic comedy disappoints its intriguing premise

Morena Baccarin and Martin Freeman star in “Ode to Joy.” (image copyright IFC Films / Mosaic)

Exclusive to MeierMovies.com, August 14, 2019

Ode to Joy, the second theatrically released feature by director Jason Winer (2011’s Arthur), has four things going for it.

First, it has a great premise: A man (Charlie: based on a real person) is seemingly unable to experience joy because he suffers from cataplexy, a neurological disorder that causes him to collapse each time he feels strong emotions. Second, it stars Martin Freeman, who makes every film more enjoyable. Third, it’s got some lovely things to say about New York City, particularly the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn and its beautiful carousel. And fourth, it’s named after one of the most powerful pieces of music ever written.

But not even Beethoven could save a bungled and surprisingly sophomoric script by Max Werner, which isn’t done any favors by some miscasting, obtrusive music and inappropriately active camerawork. Winer simply seems to lack the sensibility to pull the film’s loose ends together or grasp the story’s existential, even metaphysical, potential. This romantic comedy is not without charm, but, like the main character, it falls flat too many times.

Charlie (Freeman), a librarian, meets Francesca, a younger and ridiculously “out of his league” woman who has just broken up with her boyfriend. We’re meant to believe she wants to go on a date with him, which is entirely ridiculous, as is much of the movie. And when they do, predictably, Charlie can’t handle the passion and, after tumbling down some stairs, lands in the hospital.

But Charlie’s brother, Cooper, has the hots for Francesca, so Charlie proposes they start dating. Though Charlie might not realize it at first, this allows him to occasionally enjoy Francesca’s company while keeping his emotions – and his fainting – in check. Trouble is, Jake Lucy (The Office), as Cooper, is so badly miscast that we never buy him as Charlie’s brother. The actor is 13 years younger than Freeman (and seems even younger) and doesn’t resemble the older actor in any way. Morena Baccarin (Firefly), as Francesca, is also a younger and physically inappropriate match for Freeman, and the two enjoy no chemistry. Only the scene-stealing Melissa Rauch (The Big Bang Theory), as Bethany (a woman Cooper sets Charlie up with), seems to belong in this film at all. Indeed, the most interesting, and funny, plot line concerns Charlie and Bethany, but it’s used mostly as filler. And a weirdly raunchy cameo by Jane Curtin as Francesca’s dying aunt just reconfirms Winer’s mismanagement of the material.

“There’s nothing saying I can’t feel mild, tepid emotions,” Charlie tells Bethany. “I can go to town on those.”

And so goes Ode to Joy, content to provide a few moments of mirth and tenderness, but nothing that would aggravate Charlie’s cataplexy. It’s mostly joyless.

Copyright 2019 © Cameron Meier