Director: Alexandre Franchi
Writer: Joelle Bourjolly, Alexandre Franchi
Cast: Robin L’Houmeau, Debbie Lynch-White, Dean Perseo, David Roche, E.R. Ruiz, Alison Midstokke, Noémie Kocher
Part of: SLASH Filmfestival
Seen on: 24.9.2020
Content Note: (critical treatment of) lookism, pedophilia
Stan (Robin L’Houmeau) is struggling with his mother’s cancer diagnosis that leaves her in need of care, which he mostly provides. Most of all he struggles with the fact that he feels disgusted with her. He hopes to combat this by joining a self-help group for disfigured people led by Vanessa (Debbie Lynch-White). Where but there can he learn to be less shallow? So he decides to pretend to be disfigured himself. That plan, though, doesn’t work like he intended at all.
I was intrigued by the concept behind Happy Face and the fact that they cast a lot of actually disfigured people in the film. And it certainly tackles a difficult topic with care. Ultimately, though, it all revolves too much about Stan and what he can learn in this situation.
Happy Face has some autobiographical moments. Franchi’s mother was ill when he was Stan’s age and the film is his way to work through that. And it really does so with a lot of understanding and care, showing both how caring and selfish Stan can be in this situation. It’s emotionally honest and very touching.
But on the other hand, even though the film casts disfigured people and does give them some room to talk about how lookism affects them, ultimately they are barely more than props in Stan’s story. After he is discovered to not be disfigured, to be conventionally handsome instead, the group is quick to forgive him and the story turns more towards how Stan teaches them to stand up more for themselves (as if that was the problem here).
In the course of Stan’s intervention, he completely torpedoes the therapeutic concept of the self-help group and Vanessa just lets him. In fact, she is infatuated with him herself and definitely isn’t professional in the situation. Still, I found the ending quite harsh where practically everybody gets to grow and has a positive turning point – except Vanessa who has to shoulder the blame for everything for some reason? I was very uncomfortable with this, as I was with the sex scene with her. Her entire arc (or lack thereof) was a problem for me.
Also a problem was the pedophilia revelation that comes out of nowhere and doesn’t really go anywhere and left me wondering what its point was? Not all disfigured people are good people? But we should still forgive? I really don’t know.
But I was willing to go along with a lot of the film because it dared to take on a difficult subject and it mostly does so with thought and an eye for complexities. Not everything works out, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth seeing.