Inspired by a true story from WBEZ Chicago’s radio programme This American Life, Ode to Joy revolves around Charlie (Martin Freeman), a mild-mannered librarian who suffers from cataplexy — a narcolepsy-like condition where he would end up passing out each time he feels emotionally overwhelmed. It could be anything from fear to sadness and even joy.
Then along came Francesca (Morena Baccarin), a beautiful young woman who caused a scene when her boyfriend breaks up with her in the library. But thankfully, Charlie manages to calm things down and as most “meet-cute” scenarios would go in the romantic-comedy genre, they eventually fall for each other.
Of course, bad things happen as Charlie’s first date ends up in a cataplexy-related disaster — a result where Charlie figures it’s a bad idea to see each other anymore and decides to set his younger brother (Jake Lacy’s Cooper) up with Francesca instead. Charlie, in turn, meets a new and appropriate date in the form of Bethany (Melissa Rauch of TV’s The Big Bang Theory fame).
On paper, Ode to Joy boasts a potentially ambitious, high-concept premise that blends the aforementioned subject matter into the otherwise typical romantic-comedy genre. But director Jason Winer, whose last feature film was the 2011’s Arthur remake starring Russell Brand, alongside screenwriter Max Werner doesn’t really know what to do with it. Imagine the amount of creativity they could have pulled off in the comedic situations related to Charlie’s cataplexy condition.
Instead, they choose to play safe by sticking to the same old romantic-comedy formula that we have seen countless times before. Cataplexy, in turn, is more of a plot gimmick — a sad case of missed opportunity. Even the laughs are few and far between.
The least saving grace is the cast, with Martin Freeman and Morena Baccarin of Deadpool and Deadpool 2 fame both deliver wonderful chemistry as two unlikely couple with different personalities. Jake Lacy gives solid support as Charlie’s younger brother Cooper while Melissa Rauch nearly steals most of the show with her charmingly odd portrayal as Bethany.