53rd Chicago Int’l Film Fest #16: “Oh, Lucy!” (USA/Japan)

“Oh, Lucy!” (USA/Japan)
Directed by Atsuko Hirayanagi

MV5BZjZhODYwN2UtZWZhNS00YzA1LWI4NjAtNmFlNDZhYjQxMjdmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODE1MjUxNDE@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,960_AL_Many of the films I’ve seen at this year’s Festival revolved on the theme of being alone vs. being lonely. In this instance, a middle-aged, single and unhappy Japanese woman finds herself falling for her English teacher…and hilarity, despair, and one of the more well-written journeys toward self-awareness ensues.

Atsuko Hirayanagi has taken her award-winning short film of the same name and expanded it in to a terrific feature-length film. While not unusual to do so, the final product is almost never as successful as “Oh, Lucy” (as an example of the usual result, I give you Sean Ellis’ failed attempt to expand his terrific & Oscar-nommed short, “Cashback”). Perhaps it’s because “Lucy” seems like such a personal script, which could weigh the enterprise down, but her light touch on some very heavy subjects allows us to be more invested, empathetic and connected to Lucy’s adventures. It’s a beautifully crafted story that shows us all and never tells us a thing. Oh, if only more directors & screenwriters could make that simple-sounding task look as easy as Hiryanagi has.

That she has assembled such a brilliant cast stands as testimony to the density and humanity of the script. Shinobu Terajima, our Lucy, gives us a whole person, deeply invested and involved in her story, as opposed to simply reacting to it. From mouse to lion and back…sometimes in the simple raise of an eyebrow, or curling of her lips, it’s a beautiful, human and affecting performance. Not quite as human due to their purpose in the script, but wildly successful nonetheless, are her sister and niece, Kaho Minami and Shioli Kutsuna, respectively. Josh Hartnett gives maybe his best performance to date. There is not a smidge of dishonesty in his work. Sorrow, passion and disgrace are all perfectly communicated, and when he’s onscreen with Terajima, the film pretty much crackles. And, finally, Koji Yakusho plays a smaller but critical role and brings the entire film its grounding…both in plot and in his relationship to Lucy.

The production elements also excel. The locations are psychologically very telling, the lighting is suitably dim, and Erik Friedlander’s score is terrific. And kudos to whoever picked out Lucy’s wig!

An anti-RomCom, “Oh, Lucy” is a film that allows a terrific cast to do their thing, based on a script that is hilarious, subtle and quiet, all while punching us in the gut with its universality. Not to be missed if you enjoy films where things don’t blow up but do require having Kleenex on hand.

Written on 10/27/2017

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