ODE TO JOY – LOVE STORY WITH A TWIST

 

AUDIO PODCAST OPTION OF “ODE TO JOY – LOVE STORY WITH A TWIST” REVIEW

SHORT TAKE:

How do you manage a romance if being happy makes you pass out? This is the conundrum with which a cataplexic man struggles when his perfect woman unexpectedly appears.

WHO SHOULD WATCH:

Mature older teens and up for language, comedic miming of sex, and attempts by the main characters to physical intimacy, though there is no nudity or anything graphic.

LONG TAKE:

What do Sherlock, Deadpool, Big Bang Theory, Saturday Night Live and a Bob Fosse docudrama have in common? The best of the supporting cast of each of these film projects in an adorable little rom com, directed by Jason Winer and written by Max Werner and Chris Higgins called Ode to Joy.

A friend of mine has often teased that EVERY movie could be described as “a love story with a twist”. But Ode to Joy really is.

SPOILERS

Martin Freeman, (Watson from Sherlock) is Charlie, a man who suffers from a neurologic condition called cataplexy, a condition in which any strong emotion, but for him especially joy and happiness, will cause him to — basically faint. Watching a cute cat video could render him unceremoniously unconscious, and while it may initially seem funny, the movie points out how dangerous, both physically and emotionally, the condition can be for those who actually suffer from this condition.

The script is based upon a radio interview (which you can listen to HERE) with a man named Matt Frerkin, himself a neuroscientist, who discovered he had this condition after becoming unable to move whenever he experiences strong emotion.

So Charlie keeps himself in constant emotional check, leading a quiet life as a librarian — until the girl of his dreams storms in.

Jake Lacy (featured as Gwen Verdon’s second string love interest in the mini-series about the life of Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon, Fosse/Verdon) plays Cooper, his watchful but fun love ‘em and leave ‘em brother.

Morena Baccarin (Deadpool’s fiancee) is Francesca, the woman who breaks into Charlie’s well encapsulated life.

Melissa Rauch (the loud but loveable Bernadette from The Big Bang Theory) is Bethany, a mousy eccentric woman, who rounds out the quartet.

Jane Curtain (an SNL charter member) is Francesca’s Aunt Sylvia, who is full of life despite her terminal illness.

There’s more than meets the eye to this un petite affaire de coeur. At one point Charlie yells at his brother, plaintively wondering if he understands what it is like to live every day afraid of making a fool of yourself. The answer is, of course, yes. Everyone does. We all have our burdens to bear. And when anyone falls in love, as Charlie has, they expose themselves to the ultimate vulnerabilities.   It doesn’t take cataplexy to make you aware of the potential hurt and humiliation, rejection and risk of falling – in Charlie’s case literally – head over heels. Charlie’s cataplexy is merely an extreme physical manifestation of the chance we all take with that bold step out to admit we love.

What can leave us more exposed than being unconscious, especially unbidden and unexpectedly? And that is a perfect analogy for the leap you must take in a commitment. You lay your life, your heart and your unconditional willingness to accept rejection out on the floor, undefended to whatever might happen beyond your control. God, Himself, takes that risk with every human’s Free Will when He offers us Grace and unconditional Divine Love. Though there are consequences to turning our back on this Love, God never ceases to offer that Love. And ultimately this is what Charlie realizes he must do to pursue the good of another – genuine Love, Love without a sense of entitlement, what Plato would call philia born of eros, or a Catholic might call Charity – in order to find true — Joy.

There are scenes in which Charlie experiences true Joy, but is not “Happy” in the emotionally excited way which most of us think of as “happy” or which would trigger his cataplexy. Charlie, during these scenes, is noticeably joyful, pointed out by the other characters, even while we the audience members know he is sad, as Charlie attempts to bring Joy into the life of someone else even at his own expense. He unwittingly discovers what is true Love, even though neither his friends or even Charlie really understands this.

As for Francesca, she is a woman who prefers to set herself up for romantic failure. Having lost her mother to hereditary breast cancer and on the verge of losing her beloved Aunt to the same disease, she tends to keep things superficial, moving frequently and choosing shallow men uninterested in a permanent relationship. But Francesca too instinctively knows true Love and Joy as, though sad, she Joyfully visits and helps her Aunt, who she describes as her best friend. And counseled by her open-hearted, Bucket List accomplishing Aunt Sylvia, Francesca also wrestles with the idea of what it means to Love and commit.

It occurred to me that the characters were what an adult version of Inside Out might look like from the mind of someone “in love” who matures from adolescent infatuation to true altruistic Love. From Francesca’s often unfettered enthusiasm and Cooper’s libido, to Bethany’s confused obliviousness, Charlie’s hyper-awareness of his vulnerabilities, and finally the wisdom of Aunt Sylvia who, more than most, understands the ephemeral preciousness of life and the importance of altruistic Love, they rotate about each other examining the question of the importance of living well and FOR someone you love – even if you have to risk pain and loss.

The music by Jeremy Turner is simple, the cinematography by David Robert Jones uncomplicated, but the story is neither. Although Ode to Joy is in that familiar niche of quirky romantic comedies with some unique obstacle to the main couple’s happiness, Ode to Joy is also an intelligent and clever story which surprises, offering quite a bit to think about.

The language is occasionally adult with completely unnecessary profanity. And  two unmarried couples try to go to bed together, though no nudity and ultimately, and wisely, nothing happens because of — comic reasons.

My only real complaint about the movie is it leaves the outcome of one of the characters unresolved and unaddressed, especially frustrating as that character was unfairly treated and earned a conclusion.

But overall Ode to Joy was – a joy to watch. So if you have a rainy afternoon to spend with someone you love, you could do worse than spend it watching and talking about this lovely little film with the big heart that is an Ode to Joy.

HOTEL ARTEMIS: A RIOT, SOME ROBBERS, A SECRET HOSPITAL TO WHICH THEY GO, AND THE NURSE WHO RUNS IT

SHORT TAKE:

Violent but subtly humorous, action filled but occasionally thoughtful, and creative look at a near future ultra secret hotel-hospital for wealthy criminals run by an aging, no-nonsense, rough but surprisingly compassionate and maternal Nurse and her massive orderly, during a perfect storm of chaos.

WHO SHOULD GO:

This is an adult only movie to be sure. Though there is almost no sexuality of any kind, there is a LOT of violence and a large dose of bad language. NOT for kids.

LONG TAKE:

There may be no honor among thieves but at the Hotel Artemis there is at least some loyalty. The Hotel Artemis is a 22 year old run-down member-only hospital for criminals. On the 12th floor of a building in the wrong part of Los Angeles, it is exclusive, hidden and generally thought to be a myth. Hotel Artemis is an indie movie, written and directed by Drew Pierce whose credits as writer include Iron Man 3, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and 2020's future new Downey, Jr. Sherlock Holmes. This is his first outing directing a feature length film.  

Set in the near future of 2028 Los Angeles, Artemis features microwave scalpels, 3D printers which can manufacture new livers, and the highly skilled Nurse, played by Jodie Foster, who is more worn down than the Artemis' elevators. Agoraphobic, alcoholic, pill popping and jaded, Nurse shuffles about the hotel and her charges, administering treatments with a confident medical hand and a tough love bedside manner.  (As an odd piece of trivia it is the second time Foster has played an agoraphobic, the first time as Alexandra Rover, the neurotic writer in the filmed version of the comedy children's story Nim's Island.)

Her only staff – part orderly part bouncer – is Dave Bautista's character, Everest, whose name is a mystery only to people who have never seen a picture of this man mountain. His strong arm but restrained hand is somehow both scary and adorable. Early on, for example, he is jumped from behind by a customer who has been turned away. Shrugging him off as a bear might an overzealous cub he cautions him with the zen calm of an experienced camp counselor not to do it again or he just might have to really [mess] him up. 

Everyone goes by a nickname gleaned from either their job description or the hotel room name and Foster's lead character, The Nurse, is no exception. The movie is about the night of the Nurse's Perfect Storm. A city wide riot, like a slow-moving wildfire, is heading their way at the same time the Artemis' owner and founder, a mob kingpin named The Wolf King/Niagra, in yet another flamboyant bad guy role played by Jeff Goldblum, enters late in the evening for ministrations, accompanied by his overeager to please son, (Star Trek's Zachery Quinto), and his gang of thugs. Caught in the crossfire are a pair of brothers freshly injured from a bank robbery Waikiki and Honolulu, (Sterling Brown and Brian Henry), a munitions dealer, Acapulco (Charlie Day)  who came off the worse for wear in an altercation with a mistress, and a mysterious hit woman, Nice, played by Sophia Boutella, whose true allegiances and hidden agenda slowly unfold as the evening wears on. I have not cared much for the one note characters Boutella played in Kingsmen and Atomic Blonde, but her Nice in Hotel Artemis has her growing on me.  The ensuing tornado of violence will expose formerly unknown histories and secrets central to the souls of these eminently interesting characters.

There are many rules for the Hotel Artemis. Among them are: no weapons allowed, no one but members through the gates, do not insult or threaten the staff, and …….. do not kill the other patients. For one reason or another all the rules will be broken this night …. for better or for worse.

The violence is considerable and the language is fairly raw but there is no sexuality. Who has time with the amount of fighting and blood shed that will go on?

Foster is the genuine article. An actor, like Dustin Hoffman, who does not shy away from looking truly ugly. But from Foster's Nurse, underneath her worn exterior, shines a beauty of genuine but rough and no-nonsense affection for her patients. She exercises an unsentimental, tough-love maternal protective fiduciary duty towards them all and it makes her character both endearing and relatable in ways that more glamorous but despicable women in movies like Ocean's 8, can not even begin to evoke. If honesty and genuine concern were coinage she would be the richest woman in this movie about a medical retreat for the super wealthy criminal. I haven't seen this kind of unique perspective on the maternal instinct since Ripley's square off with the mother creature in Aliens.

This is an unusual and creative movie. I believe it has been vastly underrated by the traditional reviewing community, more particularly Rex Reed who labeled it as a shoddy freak show. This is grossly unfair and I suspect he did not understand its themes of filial duty and responsible altruism, which the writer is asserting is a potential which lies at the core of every human soul, even the apparently mosty fallen ones among us. The characters are three dimensional and behave in often unexpected but very credible ways. They are somewhat larger than life (especially Bautista) but there are genuine and unique personalities which come out clearly in small ways and clever dialogue. No exceptions or excuses are made for their criminal behavior but there is a humanity to them which make them very accessible. And, Hallelujah, Hotel Artemis does not always take itself completely seriously. Goldblum's character is aware that he is a very bad guy and likely to come to a very bad end. Baustista's character knows he is massive and almost unstoppable but has a gentle and fiercely protective spot for this tiny fragile elderly and essentially kind maternal Nurse. Right after Waikiki warns an especially obnoxious fellow patient, Acapulco, that Nice could kill him with a coffee cup she immediately demonstrates, then warns Acapulco that it is a good thing the Hotel Artemis has its rules. Nice advises someone on how to die well: "They paid for your death, don't give them your dignity for free." And if you're the kind of movie attendee who likes to stay for the credits, the last line is: "The staff of the Hotel Artemis hopes you enjoyed your stay and that you will come again." One has to smile.

Certainly not a family friendly film, but for those of appropriate age and disposition, Hotel Artemis is more than worth your time.