Happy Face Movie Review
Written by Simret Cheema-Innis
Released by Line & Content
Directed by Alexandre Franchi
Written by Joelle Bourjolly and Alexandre Franchi
2018, 100 minutes, Not Yet Rated
Blood in the Snow Film Festival Screening on 22nd November 2019
Robin L'Houmeau as Stan
Debbie Lynch-White as Vanessa
Dean Perseo as Marc Robert
David Roche as Otis
E.R. Ruiz as Jocko
Happy Face is the brave and intriguing vision of director Alexandre Franchi, one which sets out to both educate and shock its curious audience. It’s set around an ensemble of characters, each battling their varying disabilities and disfigurements in a Cognitive Behaviour Therapy workshop. We're given a view into a window of life that exposes both the fears as a society in people who appear different, and its pre-conditioned ideal of body/face form, while they divulge their fears.
The story focuses on Stan, who joins the group, led by workshop therapist Vanessa who has her own insecurities and foibles which are obvious to everyone else attending. Her role as a therapist is questionable as she seems to feel more comfortable honing in on the group's insecurities rather than progressing past them, projecting her own fears and unresolved issues.
In a similar vein to Lars Von Trier’s The Idiots, Stan pretends to be suffering from tumours by cleverly disguising his face with bandages and tape, a pretty damn good attempt until the group discover his real identity. Seeing that he too is an outcast and tormented by the terminal sickness of his mother, who he can't bear to visit in the hospital, some of the group’s members choose to forgive him. Bolstered by this acceptance, Stan exposes Vanessa for her own issues and suggests a new therapy plan for everyone. With nothing to lose, and the workshop being a mandatory requirement for all, they agree.
Franchi puts a middle finger up to political correctness, flipping the cup on the saucer and diving into unsaid expressionism, which we as a society tend to hold back on. It’s not the first time that this has been done, as a case in point would be Tod Browning's Freaks (1932). While it was banned, it still highlights the group of circus performers' complexities, taking something that was regarded as an entertainment attraction and making them human. In Happy Face, this is where real humanity is explored through the lens of those people who look different, and who share the same fears, wants, needs and desires as the next person.
It's exposure that is needed and may come as a surprise to some because of pre-conditioned expectations that people with disabilities/disfigurements can't experience or feel as 'normal' people can. Boundaries are pushed where characters are not necessarily seen as victims, but have other reasons behind their psychological crisis, aside from dealing with their physical appearances.
A pivotal scene shows a disabled ex-cop, who was disfigured by an arson attack, as he plucks up the courage and approaches his ex-girlfriend to tell her how he felt when she left him after his accident and says to her, "We had something special, you left me hanging because I got like this, I thought you was different." [sic] But when he spots another man in the background, he flies off the handle and she shouts at him, "This is why I left you, the anger, the screaming, the violence, it's not about your face!"
The scene says a lot about how we view people with disabilities and disfigurements that they are the disadvantaged, and through subconscious discrimination we are not seeing the fact that they can be assholes too. It's not to say that ableism doesn't affect these individuals either because it clearly does and that those who struggle with their disabilities have to battle their own inner issues along with the cruel comments from others. But there can be other reasons too, aside from victimisation. Comedian Rosie Jones is a good example of turning the victim notion on its head, constantly making fun of her own disability and making others feel uncomfortable because they don’t realise that she has a sense of humour… until they listen to the joke.
Another particularly brilliant scene shows Vanessa taking advantage of Stan where compulsive inhibitions unravel, sensitivity is thrown out of the window and suddenly viewers are left with the looming question mark of who the victim is and who deserves what under the circumstances.
Happy Face is a heartfelt affable movie, which provides a platform for more quirky social-realism of this kind and doesn't dance around topics of discussion that some might normally feel too scared to approach or form opinions on. This also goes for enabling those with disabilities who don't get enough platform to be heard and tell their own stories.
This page includes affiliate links where Horror DNA may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.