Film Review: Oh Lucy!

Small but sure, this portrait of a Tokyo “loser” has a way of slyly sneaking under your skin.
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A small chamber piece of a film, Oh Lucy! throws together a most unlikely trio who travel from Japan to San Diego, in search of a wayward girl, Mika (Shioli Kutsuna). This misfit band consists of Setsuko/Lucy (Shinobu Terajima), a mousy, put-upon office worker;  her sister Ayako (Kaho Minami), the mother of Mika, whose father was once Setsuko’s boyfriend, and John (Josh Hartnett), an English-language teacher who gave Setsuko that American name.

There’s not a whole lot here, but what exists has a deeply eccentric charm and authentic randomness akin to real life itself. Writer-director Atsuko Hirayanagi has the perfect deft, light touch and human sensitivity to elicit both humor and sometimes sudden, frightening levels of emotion from her characters. She presents Tokyo as a near-Kafkaesque kind of place of dehumanized employees in tight spaces trying not to hate one another too much, but the tone shifts completely once she hits California. The sun-drenched ambiance, wide-open vistas andair, which she makes palpable and alluring, liberate her characters from their hidebound repressions, freeing them to act on impulse with sometimes scary results. She wisely confines the music in her movie to one sassy pop song—accompanying, what else, a driving scene—and that innate good taste helps her through the unlikelihood and obfuscations in her script.

Equine-faced Shinobu is a wily, deadpan comedienne and a skillful enough actress to invest a rather thinly drawn character with layers of complexity not evident in the script. All you need to see is her frighteningly cluttered rat’s nest of an apartment to know that, after being dumped for her sister by the man she loved, she just sort of gave up. She’s the kind of office worker most of us have known, a seeming loser from the outside with an explanatory backstory that you rarely know. But you see there’s more to her than a desk drawer filled with rejected crap snacks forced upon her by her fellow employees, when a slyly contemptuous smile sneaks onto her face as she watches the tearful gratitude of an aged co-worker over the dismal (enforced) retirement party she is suddenly thrown. Later, she boldly makes this maiden aunt’s sexual needs abundantly clear when she throws herself upon John’s crotch; how many movies right now—or ever, for that matter—address things like this?

Minami is also very good, giving the sisterly strife that has always existed between them a real and very sad ring of truth. Her attractiveness has greased her wheels all her life, but bad choices were made, and the actress manages to make Ayako’s frustrations vivid as well as funny. Having always behaved selfishly, she is hyper-aware of that quality in others, and MInami knows how to convey a lot with just one skeptical glance. Kutsuna is delectably pretty—an anime come to life, who in 2006 was voted the most beautiful young girl in Japan—and just right as an entitled brat who has her Millennial eyes opened wide. Megan Mullally pops up in a cameo as an airplane passenger seated between the warring sisters on a plane, and she brings her patented drollness, especially when she cluelessly offers up her seat so the two can sit together.

But, if anything, Hirayanagi’s greatest achievement here is finally eliciting a good performance from Josh Hartnett, that ubiquitously pretty if inexpressive piece of wood. As a bluff, basic-bullshit salesman given to fake-warm hugging and highly dubious love object for the rest of the cast, he is perfection.

Click here for cast and crew information.