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Ode to Joy

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
Ode to Joy Movie Poster Image
Randy romcom full of quirky laughs, bawdy language.
  • R
  • 2019
  • 97 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Everyone deserves happiness. Storyline helps promote awareness/acceptance of those with unusual medical conditions. On the other hand, it suggests that a woman being loud and talkative is a negative but that men would be willing to "overlook" those qualities because of her beauty. And when a man spurns a beautiful woman, another man asks whether the first one is gay.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Charlie has cataplexy, a medical condition similar to narcolepsy that makes those who have it fall asleep when they experience strong emotion. Using humor, the film helps viewers become aware of the condition and how it affects people's lives. While he's self-conscious about it, no one treats Charlie differently because of it, nor does it deter women from pursuing a relationship with him (romantic or friendship). His brother looks out for his safety and operates as a protector.

Violence

Aggressive pushing leads to a dangerous situation, but no one is injured. A character passes out on the sidewalk and hits his head, which bleeds.

Sex

Romance-centric plot involves quite a bit of sexual banter and some crude innuendo. Despite all the talk about wanting and planning to have sex -- and even two comical bedroom scenes going on simultaneously -- no one actually does the deed.

Language

Swearing isn't constant but includes "ass," "a--hole," "bitches," "crap," "frickin'," "goddamn," "s--t," "sucks," and "oh, Jesus." Innuendo/racy language includes "blue balls," "hand jobs," "jerked it," "skank," "t-tties."

Consumerism

Joke about Pabst beer, which is seen and consumed.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters drink in social settings. A laugh is shared over a memory of smoking a joint.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Ode to Joy is a fictional romcom partially inspired by a true story about a man (Martin Freeman) who has decided that love isn't in the cards for him because he has cataplexy, a medical condition that makes someone fall asleep when they experience strong emotion, especially happiness ... including sexual pleasure. Sex, therefore, is a focal point of the story and a frequent source of humor. Although no one officially does the deed, the funniest scenes are when two couples try (unsuccessfully) to consummate their relationships. And most of the movie's strong language is in regard to sex, too -- "hand jobs," "t-tties," etc. -- although other curse words are also heard ("a--hole," "s--t"). Other topics explored include what it's like to be the sibling of someone with a medical condition and nursing a family member who's dying of cancer. There's some social drinking, and characters share a memory of smoking a joint.

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What's the story?

In ODE TO JOY, laughter is the best medicine for everyone except Brooklyn librarian Charlie (Martin Freeman), whose prescription is to live a bland life. Why? He suffers from cataplexy, a neurological condition that makes those who have it pass out when they feel a strong emotion, including -- and especially -- joy. Charlie is enchanted by beautiful, outgoing Francesca (Morena Baccarin) but fears her energetic zeal for living life may make him catatonic. Does he follow his heart or his neurons?

Is it any good?

Director Jason Winer wakes up the romcom genre with this eccentric, amusing film about a guy who can't stay conscious. Romance movies always revolve around an obstacle that the central couple has to overcome, and disease has become the go-to since The Fault in Our Stars. By using an actual illness that causes Charlie to pass out every time he feels happiness (the movie was partially inspired by a true story featured on the NPR radio program This American Life), Ode to Joy offers one of the more original romantic challenges to hit the big screen. Because cataplexy is more annoying than life threatening, it doesn't feel too problematic to mine humor from the awkwardness the condition presents -- like Charlie avoiding happy families and cute dogs in an effort to stay upright.

But it's the staid woman who thinks she's in a relationship with him, Bethany, who's a barrel of snorts and chortles. Melissa Rauch's take on boring Bethany is anything but. From the moment she's introduced, everything Bethany utters is pure comedy in the form of throwaway zingers. In her soft, nasal voice, Bethany shares her knitting class' distress over their instructor substituting yak wool after being promised alpaca: "One guy had to take a time out. It was crazy intense." It's in those kind of unexpected corners where the film thrives. Charlie's brother (Jake Lacy) is another gem: Named after the family dog, Cooper is an irreverent kindergarten teacher who's part pet, part protector for his big brother. Completing the foursome is Francesca (Morena Baccarin), an extrovert who seems to live life loudly but is really as emotionally paralyzed as Charlie. And therein lies the ironic brilliance. By using disease as a crutch for self-sabotage, subtle humor that comes out of left field, and characters that you've never seen before and yet you feel like you know, Winer delivers a clever romcom for those who've been around the block a time or two.  

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about cataplexy. Were you familiar with this condition before watching Ode to Joy? How are movies effective in raising awareness of the differences among people and building empathy for others' struggles?

  • Romance movies usually involve a couple that must overcome an obstacle to be together. Do you think that's true in real life or just a storytelling device? How do movies like this help us, and how do they interfere?

  • Did you think the strong language added anything to the movie? Was it necessary? Funny? Why do you think writers include coarse language?

  • Cataplexy is a real condition, but how is it also used in the film as a metaphor? How can people get in their own way? What do you think the filmmakers want you to take away from watching the movie?

  • How is New York City used as the fifth character in the film? How are locations important to storytelling?

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