Ode to Joy (Jason Winer, 2019) 2½ out of 4 stars.
A profoundly silly but nevertheless often enjoyable romantic comedy, Ode to Joy follows the misadventures of a man afflicted with cataplexy, a condition that causes him to pass out every time he experiences a burst of euphoria. When not listening to brutal heavy metal or muttering curses to himself – devices he employs to remain upright – he finds himself thrown, time and again, into the company of a woman destined to be his soulmate, whom he must avoid lest slumber overwhelm. It’s a dilemma both existential and cinematic, offering obstacles aplenty before the obligatory happy end. “Will he or won’t he?” the movie asks. As if there were ever any doubt … Still, along the predictable path towards foregone conclusion lie many welcome twists of clever intrigue and dialogue, the entire affair buoyed by the performances of the two leads, Martin Freeman (Ghost Stories) and Morena Baccarin (Deadpool). If not pure dramatic bliss, the film still offers plenty of fun.
When we first meet Charlie (Freeman), he is at his baby sister’s wedding, propped up by younger brother, Cooper – Jake Lacy (Obvious Child), unable to do much in an underwritten role – who fumbles his charge as the inevitable happens over the exchange of vows, Charlie crashing to the ground. Next, we see Charlie at work at the New York Public Library, where he somehow nimbly talks down a warring couple about to wreak havoc, the female half a charming soul named Francesca (Baccarin). She is impressed with Charlie’s professional aplomb, but as soon as she makes her interest clear, Charlie’s condition threatens to activate. Fortunately, there’s dopey Cooper to step in and date Francesca, instead, and that note of discord creates just enough misery for Charlie to be able to spend time with a woman who would otherwise cause constant fainting spells. Francesca would rather be with Charlie than his brother, but that just doesn’t seem possible … or is it? The joy is in the getting there.
Though the narrative is clumsy, Freeman and Baccarin are always watchable, as is Melissa Rauch (The Bronze) as a sweet-but-unexciting partner with whom Charlie is set up. Sadly, Lacy – an otherwise likeable actor – is given a dud of a part, all earnest cluelessness with sex on the brain; he’s so irritating that you relish every scene he is not in. Cooper is merely symptomatic of the too-frequent simplicity that serves as insufficient shorthand for emotional heft. Missteps aside, however, Ode to Joy still provides ample opportunities for cheer: hardly a symphony, but at least a pleasant ditty.