The new romantic dramedy “Ode to Joy” is one of the most delightful films of the year as it encourages you to chase your happiness to the ends of the earth—even if doing so puts you at risk of falling over the edge of it. After all, life is far too short to purposefully avoid the finer things in life, most notably love and everything that comes with it.
Martin Freeman plays a Brooklyn librarian named Charlie who suffers from cataplexy—a rare disorder that causes him to lose control of his muscles whenever he is overcome by strong emotion, the worst offender of which is joy. As a result of his condition, he has learned to carefully edit all delight-triggering people, places and events out of his life.
However, when a beautiful, spontaneous woman named Francesca (Morena Baccarin) happens into his life, Charlie finally takes a chance and agrees to go on a date with her—his first in many years. Things go awry, as he had expected, and Charlie suppresses his feelings of attraction and sets Francesca up with his brother Cooper (Jake Lacey) instead.
Cooper, in turn, finds what he believes to be a perfect match for Charlie in the extraordinarily dull Bethany (Melissa Rauch) and the arrangement actually works. But as the pair of couples embark on double-dates, Charlie discovers that a life of contentedness is no substitute for a life filled with joy—no matter the side effects.
Based on a true story that was originally featured on the radio program “This American Life,” “Ode to Joy” features wonderful performances from all four of its lead actors. Rauch undoubtedly earns the most credit here for showing us yet another side of herself that is drastically different from those of the characters she played in “The Bronze” or on TV’s “The Big Bang Theory.”
But it is the story and its life-affirming messages that are the real stars of “Ode to Joy.” It is ironic how a movie about a man who avoids all strong emotions manages to extract a great deal of them from viewers. I found myself in tears by the final scene of the movie, which includes a speech that is as strange as it is sweet.
The movie encourages you to look at your own life and consider what walls you have been placing in the way of the things that will lead you to your own true happiness—be it a relationship, a career or what have you. As Lacey’s character says in the film, “You are capable of being happy, you just have to be OK with what comes after.”
However, “Ode to Joy’s” best bit occurs after the film has ended in a dialogue-free scene that appears after the end-credits has already begun to roll. To say too much about it would rob you of what very well may be this year’s most poignant moment in cinema. Instead, I will leave you with this thought: Life’s greatest joys are those we often take for granted.