Happy Face

The transition from teenager to young adult is a difficult period in everyone’s life. During this time, we struggle with who we are becoming and where we will fit in, while discovering independence and responsibility. We want to take control of our lives but still hold onto the childhood comforts of parents and friends. What happens here defines who we become, but we don’t get that at the time. Canadian director Alexandre Franchi beautifully brings this turmoil to the screen with Happy Face.

With his mom sick from cancer, 19-year-old Stan (Robin L’Houmeau) spends his time playing Dungeons & Dragons with old friends and picking up girls in bars. He also wraps bandages on his face and attends a hospital support group for disfigured people. As he slowly builds relationships with these people, the question of his sincerity becomes an issue, as well as why he is there in the first place. Ultimately, these friendships drive him to embrace the one thing he fears the most.

“He also wraps bandages on his face and attends a hospital support group for disfigured people…”

Franchi brilliantly tells this tale of a young man coming into his own with blunt honesty. The actors in the support group are not wearing prosthetics. This is what they really look like, and it can be difficult to watch at first for anyone with dysmorphophobia. But just like Stan, we get to know them and see beyond the flesh to discover the beautiful characters they really are. Far from a freakshow, it’s a brutal lesson in the way we judge others simply by looking at them.

Of course, the effectiveness of such a message relies on the strength of the cast and this is one phenomenal ensemble. As much as L’Houmeau holds the focus, he also plays the catalyst that drives the other characters to their own realizations. It’s not an easy balancing act, but he does it perfectly, blending cockiness and vulnerability like a typical 19-year-old. Debbie Lynch-White shines as the troubled head of the support group, with David Roche, E.R. Ruiz, Alison Midstokke and Cyndy Nicholsen each bringing multi-dimensional layers and mystery to characters who are rarely seen beyond their faces.

“…the effectiveness of such a message relies on the strength of the cast and this is one phenomenal ensemble.”

Society pressures us to look, act and think a certain way, but it’s up to us to decide who we really are. We can follow trends out of the fear of being rejected ourselves or forge our own paths with no concern for what anyone thinks. After all, if we’re ostracizing people based on the way they look, aren’t we really the monsters?

Happy Face (2018) Directed by Alexandre Franchi. Written by Joelle Bourjolly and Alexandre Franchi. Starring Robin L’Houmeau, Debbie Lynch-White, David Roche, E.R. Ruiz, Alison Midstokke, Cyndy Nicholsen and Noémie Kocher. Happy Face screened at the 2019 Slamdance Film Festival.

9 out of 10 stars

 

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