The world is in bad shape. Some people are trying to survive, spread positivity, and just live and let live. But the battle is still uphill. It has always been this way for people who don’t fit what society calls ‘the mold’. Whether we have witnessed racism toward others, or been the target of shame and prejudice ourselves, Happy Face brings these issues to the surface.
Misfits turned friends meet at a support group led by a questionably unstable facilitator. Though the group is meant for people with facial differences (dare we never again use the ugly word deformity, please!), an impostor infiltrates to both positive and negative effect. Stan (newcomer Robin L’Houmeau) is trying to understand how it feels to be different, but learns that when push comes to shove, we are all the same. We are human. Prompted by the inability to accept his mother’s cancer, Stan helps the support group members, but also himself, to become better at fitting the mold without losing the self.
Shot largely in the Cote des Neiges-NDG area of Montreal, we are treated to probably the most natural “franglais” filmmaking to ever grace the screen. It represents Montreal’s bilingual community with ease, switching between French and English not to make any specific political statement, but to portray ordinary daily life in this city.
Director Alexandre Franchi infused Stan with autobiographical experiences. He lost his own mother to a disfiguring cancer, and dealt with a similar clash of emotions. Franchi, his co-writer Joelle Bourjolly, and most of Happy Face’s cast attended the World Premiere of their important film at The FNC. The entire room was engulfed in both the plot, and the personal anecdotes offered by the special guests. During a Q&A session, some audience members spoke through tears to express their reactions. After being quiet throughout, actress Cyndy Nicholsen’s water dam broke the moment she was passed a microphone. Don’t misunderstand – the film is not specifically depressing or oppressive. It is ironically uplifting while showing the true face of the human condition. How do we interact with one another in a world full of fear? People are afraid to look at someone whose face is deemed different. People tiptoe around the proverbial elephant in the room if they can even acknowledge the human behind disfiguration, birth defects, or speech impediments.
Franchi’s step toward spreading understanding and acceptance is not always easy to watch. It is heartbreaking but also touching. Stan wrestles with his own demons while trying to help others feel whole and respected in public. Throughout, there are parallels drawn to his Dungeons and Dragons pastime. We are all both good and bad, with our own unique ‘super powers’. We all have things that we’re hiding. But physical appearance does not dictate what’s on the inside. There are two types of beauty: physical and spiritual.
Happy Face is about facing what we’re scared to face. Potential distributors and financial backers have told Franchi that nobody will sit through 2 hours of disfigured people on screen. But the content here promotes acceptance and body positivity. Almost none of the actors had prior acting experience, but they have done a bang-up job. Franchi and his team are so serious about propelling knowledge to the masses, that he has set up an Indiegogo page to seek more visibility, and to spread the film by word of mouth. Highly recommended – go see it, but also tell everybody you know about it.
FNC Screening: Monday Oct 8, 9:35PM, Cineplex Odeon Quartier Latin