Review: 'Oh Lucy!' Starring Shinobu Terajima And Josh Hartnett

Did you know that Will Ferrell and Adam McKay produced Atsuko Hirayanagi's directorial debut? Neither did I but I think we'll both be glad we learned about this gem.

Oh Lucy! stars Shinobu Terajima as Setsuko, a middle-aged, chain-smoking Japanese woman who works a boring cubicle job full of colleagues that annoy her in a variety of ways. The film opens with Setsuko witnessing a man jumping in front of a train on her morning commute, where she is pestered by a retiring coworker who seems oblivious to the fact that everyone in the office - Setsuko included - will be relieved when she is gone. Perhaps she sees these two paths laid out before her own life every night when she retreats to her hoarder's den of an apartment. That could explain why she agrees when her niece Mika (Shioli Kutsuna) asks her to pay for and attend her remaining English language classes, run out of a sketchy love hotel and taught by the ever-charming Josh Hartnett as John.

English classes with John are weird: he puts you in a wig and pulls an English name out of a hat to give you your new identity while you're in your class. Before I had time to process the problematic nature of telling someone to abandon their identity and force them to adopt a blond-haired one instead, John was wrapping Setsuko, sorry, Lucy, in a hug and popping a ping-pong ball in her mouth. (This seems like it could be a legitimate pedagogical method to teach phonemes but still.) But becoming Lucy definitely lays out a new path in front of Setsuko. Lucy is brave enough to tell that annoying coworker that everyone hates her at her retirement party. Lucy eagerly hugs John back during English class. When he runs away to America with Mika, Lucy abruptly requests vacation and goes to LA to find them, with her sister Ayako (Kaho Minami) in tow.

Unfortunately for Lucy, she has to live with the unaddressed baggage and poor decisions that Setsuko makes. To name a few that she is forced to confront in California: her sister stealing and marrying her boyfriend, her crush on John, a Japanese character tattoo, smoking weed in a parking lot. Of course, this doesn't even take into consideration everyone else's drama, like the troublesome mother-daughter relationship between Ayako and Mika, and John's surprisingly complicated past.

If this sounds a bit like the plot of a coming-of-age romantic comedy type of movie, you would be mistaken. While the movie is billed as a comedy, and I did occasionally laugh out loud watching it, even comedic scenes are tinged with a dark sadness that reveals itself in full by the end of the movie. The director lingers on moments that make you laugh out loud and then steep in discomfort. The cast, especially Shinobu Terajima, really bring these characters, their terrible decisions, and the consequences of those decisions to life.

Rating: 4 out of 5