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Oh Lucy! (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 14, 2020

Oh Lucy!

OH LUCY! (2017)

Starring Shinobu Terajima, Josh Hartnett, Kaho Minami, Shioli Kutsuna, Kôji Yakusho, Megan Mullally, Reiko Aylesworth, Nick Gracer, Liz Bolton, Miyoko Yamaguchi, Hajime Inoue, Hiroaki Miyagawa, Stephanie A, Leni Ito, Calvin Winbush, Eddie Hassell, Todd Giebenhain, Tre Hale, Noelani Dacascos and Kimie Tanaka.

Screenplay by Atsuko Hirayanagi & Boris Frumin.

Directed by Atsuko Hirayanagi.

Distributed by Film Movement. 96 minutes. Not Rated.

“All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?” John Lennon & Paul McCartney.

The lead character of Oh Lucy! is not Eleanor Rigby, of course, but that lyric pretty much nails her. In fact, her name isn’t even Lucy; it is Setsuko. However, Lucy was the name that a hunky young English teacher played by Josh Hartnett wanted her to go by, so she did it to make him happy. After all, he makes her feel weirdly alive. A never-married 40-something office drone can dream, right?

Setsuko is not the only lonely person in the Tokyo and Los Angeles settings of the Japanese film Oh Lucy! She may not even be the loneliest person in the movie. Oh Lucy! is a film chock full of people who are cut off and feeling abandoned – even including the people who seem to have solid relationships.

Did I mention Oh Lucy! is a comedy? It is, despite a longing melancholy at its center. It even counts among its producers Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, which is pretty crazy stuff all on its own. This film does not exactly seem to be in their wheelhouse, and I mean that as a good thing.

The idea of a lonely past-her-prime woman falling for a younger man who is probably completely unattainable is not uncommon in film – a couple of years ago Sally Field’s character in Hello My Name Is Doris could have been an American soul sister of Setsuko’s. And the desperate measures that the lovelorn are willing to take for a small chance at happiness is always interesting, even if sometimes in a slightly soul-crushing way.

Oh Lucy! is a bit more complex than the typical lonely-hearts comedy. Beyond her fantasy romance, Setsuko is having problems with her family (particularly her sister and her niece), her co-workers (which is probably fine, because she pretty much hates her job) and even a nice widower who seems interested, but Setsuko barely even notices him in the bright glow of her new crush.

The movie starts with a shock. Setsuko is one of a multitude of commuters on a train platform, all wearing surgical masks (apparently that’s a thing there, because of pollution or illnesses or whatever) when the man beside her jumps out in front of the train.

However, this blast of violence really has little to nothing to do with the story, other than helping to illustrate how detached and numbed Setsuko is. (The poor guy gave his life to be an illustrative psychological plot point.)

The only thing that really has any kind of life in Setsuko’s world at all is her adorable niece Mika (Shioli Kutsuna). Mika is almost like a human Hello Kitty (or Powerpuff Girl), a youngster still in awe of life and the possibilities ahead of her. Setsuko envies her carefree confidence and willingness to just be her giddy self. Mika talks her aunt into buying out an expensive contract she took out for English lessons.

With nothing better to do in her life, Setsuko decides to give the lessons a chance. Her staid existence is immediately thrown into a twirl when she meets the handsome American John (Josh Hartnett), who somehow ended up teaching English to Japanese people, even though he doesn’t appear to speak much Japanese.

However, he is an oddball force of nature, insisting that the class is an all-English zone, making his students wear wigs and take on Americanized names, and explaining to his students, “I’m a hugger.” He also teaches a very simple, colloquial version of American English, basically on the line of “Hey, Lucy…” “Hey, John…” Not that there are a whole lot of students, the entire class seems to be Setsuko and a nice, but slightly nerdy widower (Koji Yakusho).

Setsuko (now known as Lucy for the class) falls for the handsome, goofy John, but by the time she goes for her second lesson she finds out that John is gone, returning to America – with her niece Mika. In a fit of jealousy and emptiness, Setsuko decides to use some of her massive amount of accrued vacation time to follow them to Los Angeles. Setsuko’s sister (and Mika’s mother) Ayaka (Kaho Minami), who she has a very strained relationship with, insists on going as well, so the two bicker and fight through their mutual trip.

Will & Grace co-star Megan Mullally shows up in an unimportant cameo role as a woman who sits between the sisters on the transatlantic flight – I guess Ferrell and McKay pulled in a favor to get her for the role – though Mullally always brings a spark to whatever she does. In fact, when her character disappears so quickly, you spend the rest of Oh Lucy! kind of hoping she will pop back up.

Once they make it to LA, things in the movie get progressively darker, on a psychological level, and Setsuko’s fantasy life becomes more desperate and pathetic. Still, Oh Lucy! is an interesting character study, a dark comedy which becomes a dark night of the soul, but also one that shows some possibility of redemption. It is sweet and sour and not exactly what you expect it will be, kind of like life itself.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2018 All rights reserved. Posted: March 16, 2018.

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