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Ode to Joy: A Rom-Com Built for 2019?



Martin Freeman stars as Charlie in this romantic comedy about a cataplexic man (faints when excited or has too much joy) struggling with his attraction to the ultimate trigger of his affliction: Francesca, played by Morena Baccarin.

Based on an episode from NPR’s podcast series “This American Life”, that first aired in 2010, the concept was based on a real person, the subject of the piece, who had cataplexy, which is a particular symptom of narcolepsy that can cause lack of muscular control or even paralysis as a reaction to the experience of strong emotions, including joy. 

At one time having the provisional title; “The Pursuit of Unhappiness” it chronicles a man who’s condition literally requires him to avoid feelings, including happiness and joy. 

In a sense, the plot is like a physical re-enactment through this dramatization, based on a real affliction, of what, perhaps, we all feel on some level. Too much “joy” and Charlie literally collapses and removes himself from the overstimulating situation. 

The Plight of One is a Mirror of Us All?

It’s funny, but also somehow endearing, that this man has resigned himself to intentionally avoiding all that excites and fulfills him. The journey becomes one of facing his “demons” and, in his case, quite literally confronting them, even as they cause him to collapse whenever he attempts to do so. 

Based on the trailer (see above) there are many genuinely funny moments in the film, and the romance appears poignant and believable, in spite of the true-to-life and yet, at the same time hard to imagine, plot twists.

The film’s producer, Jason Winer, when interviewed in “The Hollywood Reporter” put it this way:

“A lot of people living with this disease described the horror of being conscious while it’s happening,” he explains. “You’re not passing out; you’re losing muscle control. So as (Charlie’s) body reacts to emotion by essentially crumbling, he’s witnessing people’s reaction to him crumbling, which is part of the embarrassment and fear of the whole thing.”

Jason Winer, producer, “ode to Joy

And on what it was about the story that attracted him to the project:

“It was a compassionate and moving look at the people who were living with this condition where they couldn’t allow themselves to feel, and it was tragic, But it was also the most original obstacle to falling in love that either Mike (co-executive producer) or myself had heard in years.”


Photo / Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions

With so many major film studios focused on Super Hero blockbusters, sequels and remakes, “Ode to Joy” had a long arduous path to reach today’s release. Originally slated to be made under the Sony Pictures umbrella, ultimately is became an Indie project now with distribution by IFC Films. 

Perhaps it is still enough, in the movie industry, to stimulate thought and entertain with comedy and romance. With so much violence and strife in our real-life surroundings, it seems, maybe this is the kind of hopeful and thoughtful escape we can all embrace. 

In Theaters beginning August 9, 2019

Photo / Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions

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