Happy Face (2018)
Director (and co-writer): Alexandre Franchi
Cast: Robin L’Houmeau, Debbie Lynch-White, David Roche, E.R. Ruiz, Alison Midstokke, Noemie Kocher, Cyndy Nicholsen
Desperate to become less shallow, a handsome teenage boy deforms his face with bandages and attends a support group for disfigured people. – IMDB
Happy Face is a unique film. Its brave to make the choice to find a cast with facial differences that plays fictional characters facing a world that is beauty-obsessed. Most view physical differences on obesity or even being overweight (which also used in this story) and facing societal expectations of what someone should look and weigh. However, physical differences that bring judgement and ridicule sometimes are permanent damages. In a year where this is gradually becoming a familiar topic (for example, Dirty God also tackles this topic), its all about the character growth and development and creating intriguing characters that grow alongside the main character Stan (Robin L’Houmeau) who might be “handsome” but has his own shortcomings and motives on a more “inner beauty” level.
Happy Face aims at its authentic and raw experience. Its characters are not linear. Its not because they have facial differences or physical differences that make them deep down fantastic people. In fact, these characters are also flawed in their own ways. However, that just makes them more real as they also have their own dreams and their own bridges to mend and relationships to face. While Stan is the focal character here, somehow his story falls further in the backdrop to the characters in the support group. Its an empowerment story for its characters: all of which having their own issues and sometimes its a much deeper issues than just their facial differences, giving each of them their own depth to reveal as they embrace those moments and get to the final moments to face their own demons and seek out their own answers. At the same time, it challenges its viewers of their acceptance of these characters just like the steps of therapy that Stan teaches the group about challenging those who judge their differences.
There are some issues with Happy Face like the story feels slightly disjointed as it addresses all these different characters. Stan’s story feels very lightly touched as its all just insinuating his actual story and how much of it is the truth with snapshots and flashbacks to fill in the pieces that his mother is about to be faced with the difficulties like the support group he has become involved in. And while the story ends in a relatively decent wrap-up, the final act goes into some mind-boggling choices that I’m personally struggling to grasp its entire reason and meaning (particularly one scene). One of the bigger issues here is language. The group itself is all in English with French-accented English with some of the characters while Stan himself interacts with his family with French (English subtitled). It sounds like an odd choice but in the demographic of where they are, it feels like a more authentic experience might be to do it in French and then subtitle it in English. That is not so much a criticism as a personal preference that might feel more natural (but of course, perhaps there are elements here like other cast members in the consideration and viewer convenience that I’m not aware of).
Happy Face is not an easy movie to watch in the beginning. Its also hard to evaluate a film like this because its a careful territory to tread on. The topic here is touchy to say the very least. Its heart is in the right place. There’s a lot to appreciate about this film that deserves a viewing just from its authenticity and the message its trying to send out.
*Happy Face has a screening at Blood in the Snow Festival on November 22nd at 7pm. You can find the info HERE for the festival.*