Film Movement Movie Review: Oh Lucy! (2017)

Executive produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay's Gloria Sanchez Productions – the female-centric sister company to Gary Sanchez Productions – this quirky character driven dramedy centered on a bored middle-aged Japanese woman's impulsive journey to California makes for a downright intriguing double feature with Matt Spicer's fellow 2017 directorial debut Ingrid Goes West.

Comprised of people and places writer/director Atsuko Hirayanagi knows very well, Oh Lucy! is based upon the filmmaker's multiple award-winning 2014 short film by the same name, which served as her MFA thesis at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts.

And while there's a lot to like about the creatively ambitious director's wholly original take on the globetrotting road movie, unfortunately (and again similarly to Ingrid) her tonally uneven first feature starts to run out of gas before we've reached the final act.

Released by Film Movement following its successful run at fests around the globe (including screening as part of International Critics Week at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival), Oh Lucy! is bolstered by Shinobu Terajima's Independent Spirit Award nominated performance as a stuck-in-a-rut office worker inspired to start over by her charismatic English teacher, played by the always affable Josh Hartnett.

Likewise, in a welcome return to the screen, Hartnett fires on all emotional cylinders in an unusual and fascinating turn – serving as the tour guide to American culture for the film's leads as they journey after a runaway relative.

Focusing more on situational humor than audible laughs, Lucy revolves around the role past hurts and betrayals play on the film's familial triangle of lost female souls trying to move forward and find themselves.

As the characters inevitably combust, Lucy heads into darker territory despite the filmmaker's attempt to lessen the impact of the cruel third act twists by (disappointingly) using the film's men as the predominant voices of sanity.

Without offering the viewer more information about our leading lady – which is sorely needed to better understand what seems like a one-note response – Hirayanagi's Lucy moves backwards instead of forwards right along with our often antagonistic protagonist.

Seemingly trying to lighten things up a la genre-similar works such as Stranger Than Paradise and Sideways before it reaches its darkly comic yet foreshadowed ending, Oh Lucy! fails to fully pay off on its unique premise and dynamite second act.

Still in spite of its flaws, the picture remains an uncompromising, thoughtful, and impressively fresh cinematic calling card for its imaginative storyteller, which makes me eager to see what Atsuko Hirayanagi will bring to the screen next.

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