Based on her 2014 short, writer-director Atsuko Hirayanagi‘s feature film Oh Lucy! is a midlife crisis meets coming-of-age drama. We meet Setsuko, a lonely and emotionally stunted worker bee living an unfulfilling life. When her niece Mika convinces her to take English lessons, she falls head over heels for her teacher John. He is warm and inviting, giving her the American name “Lucy” and a bleach blonde, curly-haired wig. But not all is what it seems when John goes missing. Discovering Mika and John enter a cab together triggers her alter ego to take over. Feeling like she’s been taken advantage of, “Lucy” throws caution to the wind.
Alongside her estranged sister, the two go on a wild goose chase from Japan to California. When they arrive in Los Angeles, they knock on John’s apartment only to discover Mika is gone and John is broke. The odd trifecta takes a clue from a postcard, traveling to San Diego in hopes of finding Mika there. Lucy is inappropriately enamored with John, but this doesn’t stop her from pursuing him like a schoolgirl. Lucy lets go of others’ expectations, finally allowing herself to indulge in life’s joys. Through her arguments with her self-righteous sister and aggressive amorous overtures, we see Lucy and Setsuko run the gamut of emotions. Whether that’s good or bad is the ultimate question.
Josh Hartnett is effortlessly charming. You cannot help but smile as he teaches Lucy to loosen up like an American. His hyper-excitable facade soon falls away to reveal a fully fleshed-out and very flawed human being. Shinobu Terajima brings us on a wild arc, from an underestimated punching bag to seizing the moment in search of her true self. Lucy is through taking anyone’s proverbial shit. Terajima is fearless, steaming through emotional milestones like a freight train. You cannot help but root for her, despite her misguided attempts at capturing John’s heart. Hartnett and Terajima have an electric chemistry that breaks your heart.
Oh Lucy! subverts expectations as it unfolds, becoming a profoundly universal story of self-doubt. It speaks to the masks we wear to please others. The visual vibrancy of Tokyo, in contrast with L.A., pulls double duty, mimicking the story’s subtext. Hirayanagi’s script explores a hidden sadness and uncertainty through spontaneous and irrational behavior. Oh Lucy! underscores the lengths we’ll go to feel whole.