Review by Jacquelin Hipes
In the opening minutes of Oh Lucy!, a stranger on a crowded platform whispers goodbye into Setsuko Kawashima’s ear and leaps in front of a train. This jarring incident sets both her (Shinobu Terajima) and the audience off-balance, a sobering start to what’s billed as a comedy-drama. Setsuko lives a largely unfulfilled and lonely life in the bustle of Tokyo; she enjoys neither her job nor her co-workers and fills her small apartment to the brim with meaningless clutter—a substitute, perhaps, for the void left when her boyfriend fell in love with and married her sister, Ayako (Kaho Minami), many years ago.
While the two siblings are somewhat estranged, Setsuko maintains a relationship with her niece Mika (Shioli Kutsuna). It isn’t surprising, then, when the younger woman calls and asks to meet for lunch. Finding herself in a bind for cash, Mika hopes that her aunt will buy out the last six months of an English speaking course she’s enrolled in. Setsuko tentatively agrees to a trial class where she meets John (Josh Hartnett), the outgoing instructor. He insists on hugs as greetings and has Setsuko select an English name—Lucy—and put on a blonde wig during class. These unorthodox methods make her uncomfortable at first, yet by the end of the lesson she seems a little smitten and agrees to pay Mika for the remaining six months.
Just enough money for Mika to quit her waitressing job and run away to America with John.
Aghast, Setsuko and Ayako hurry across the Pacific after they receive a post card from Mika with a Los Angeles address, hoping to retrieve their wayward kin. Along the way Setsuko struggles to reconcile the woman she’s been with the new “Lucy” persona. Terajima carries the film as the awkward and isolated Setsuko. A woman who still desires intimacy, she’s built up defenses to prevent the hurt inflicted by her sister’s betrayal from happening again. With the genesis of Lucy she opens up—perhaps too much. Berating a retiring colleague, spilling intimate details to a stranger on the flight to LA, and then coping with her burgeoning feelings for John. It’s childlike in a sense, how Setsuko approached the world as Lucy encounters it, and she isn’t immune from a child’s mistakes.
As John, Josh Hartnett turns in a lovely and understated performance, never tipping his hand. The question of John’s true intentions toward the younger Mika is never directly addressed; Hartnett allows the ambiguity to stand through his earnestness. Kutsuna and Minami both do well as the errant daughter and a mother who feels less apathy than she puts on. Although his appearance is brief, Kôji Yakusho provides much-needed warmth and sincerity as a retired detective and fellow student in John’s class.
Oh, Lucy! can be an uncomfortable film: it’s rarely pleasant watching someone make such obvious mistakes. Yet there’s an undeniable heart to it as well, found in the similarities between two estranged sisters. One still hasn’t given up on her daughter, despite loud protests to the contrary; the other still desires love, companionship, or even simple understanding, regardless of the barriers she’s erected. And it’s in addressing those mistakes that Setsuko’s true self, somewhere between herself and Lucy, shines through.
2/23: The Landmark at 57 West – New York
3/2: Nuart – Los Angeles
3/9: Landmark Kendall Square – Boston
3/9: Landmark E St – Washington, DC
3/9: Landmark Minneapolis
3/9: Harkins Shea – Scottsdale AZ
3/9: Laemmle NoHo 7 – North Hollywood CA
3/9: Laemmle Playhouse – Pasadena CA
3/16: SIFF Uptown – Seattle WA
3/16: Landmark Shattuck – Berkeley, CA
3/16: Landmark Embarcadaro – San Francisco
3/16: Rafael Film Center – San Rafael CA
3/16: Landmark Ritz at Bourse – Philadelphia PA
3/16: Landmark Midtown Art – Atlanta GA
4/6: Landmark Venue TBD – Denver CO