The exclamation point at the end of “Oh Lucy!” lends the title a degree of lightness, as does knowing Adam McKay and Will Ferrell are executive producers. But the more appropriate punctuation might have been the open-endedness of an ellipsis.
“Oh Lucy!” has moments of comedy, especially in the beginning – although the opening scene is a shocker as Setsuko (Shinobu Terajima) waits for a train to whisk her to her dead-end office job in Tokyo.
She seems oddly unaffected by what happens on the platform and carries on with the rest of her day. But something has shifted, and it surfaces when she meets John (Josh Hartnett), an English language instructor who believes that there’s nothing better than a good hug: “What can I say? I’m a hugger.”
At first, Setsuko resists John’s unorthodox methods of teaching “American” English. He asks her to wear a blond wig and prompts her to take a card out of a box. She draws the name “Lucy” and finds liberation in it and the wig, even outside of class. And when John hugs her again, she visibly melts as he wraps his arms around her.
Hartnett is the warm, goofy American to Terajima’s lonely Japanese woman, but he’s really a supporting player to her story – and a bit of a mystery. How did he end up in Japan? Harnett plays John with a hint of desperation.
Then he’s gone, and “Oh Lucy!” begins to shift tonally and grows increasingly dark.
All of the main characters are a bit desperate and lonely but for different reasons, setting up a series of contrasts. The differences between the two countries are emphasized with shots of Tokyo’s cramped cityscape and the openness of Southern California. What it means to be single as compared to being in a relationship plays out between Setsuko, who is alone, and her sister, who is married (but not for long).
If this were strictly an American movie, expectations would dictate that Setsuko learn to love herself so she could embrace a better life. But this is also a Japanese film, and that’s not what happens.
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