Fantastic Fest 2019 Review: 'Happy Face'
The Soul Isn't Always as Beautiful as the Body
Stan (Robin L’Houmeau) is an average nerdy 19-year-old with good looks, an interest in girls, and an infatuation with Dungeons and Dragons. However, his mother Augustine (Noémie Kocher) is suffering from a terminal form of brain cancer. In an effort to cope with his mother’s illness, Stan tapes up his face and covers it in bandages in order to appear scarred and deformed. Claiming his name is Augustine, Stan joins a support group for disfigured people. As he gets to know the people in the support group, Stan retreats from his own issues in order to give his own verbally harsh treatment to those in the group.
Stan isn’t going to school and doesn’t have any sort of job. He typically doesn’t accomplish anything other than bringing a different woman to his mother’s home every evening. Reality becomes far too brutal for him. His mother’s condition worsens and instead of visiting her in the hospital every day like he promised, he comes up with excuses to not see her including dealing with the issues of his disfigured acquaintances over his own. What’s interesting is that Stan finds the most comfort in not only D&D, but also Don Quixote. Stan and his mother have a special connection over Don Quixote as it’s quoted several times throughout the film. Stan withdraws from reality and buries himself in worlds completely buried in fantasy and magic.
Each person in the support group has their own fears and life obstacles to overcome. Vanessa (Debbie Lynch-White) is attempting to get past her obesity, Otis (David Roche) is trying to reconnect with his daughter despite the discoloration of half of his face and the absence of a lower jaw, Jocko (E.R. Ruiz) is a police officer who was badly burned and the relationship with his girlfriend was strained because of it, Maggie (Alison Midstokke) wants to be a model but her facial disfiguration gets in the way of her confidence, and Beckie/Buck (Cyndy Nicholsen) wants nothing more than to be loved by her mother but her mother has done nothing but mock her skin condition her entire life.
The Alexandre Franchi directed drama portrays that people who have some sort of disfigurement face what you’d probably expect; public mockery by strangers, not having confidence to go out in public, and withdrawing inward because the outside world never fully accepted them. But Happy Face reveals that humans are flawed despite how they appear - whether they were born disfigured, became scarred later on, or are overweight. Stan seems to be the most screwed up out of every character in the film and he appears as a flawless individual who is capable of achieving whatever he sets his mind on.
Stan sticks by his mother the entire time, but once her condition worsens she begins to push away as soon as he seriously starts suggesting that she should go to the hospital to get the help she needs. There’s this question of devotion hanging above Stan’s head and as someone witnessing this from the outside looking in, you can kind of understand where Stan is coming from. His mother is on the verge of death and her physical appearance is already deteriorating rapidly on a daily basis. Nobody wants to see their loved ones go through that. That kind of pressure and not being what that sick person needs when you visit is devastating. The Miguel Cervantes quote about there being two types of beauty; that of the soul and that of the body is also more haunting because of this.
Happy Face is a depressing experience, but it’s pieced together so well that it’s absolutely worthwhile. A person being morally reprehensible isn’t something that can be judged by their physical appearance since sometimes beauty is only skin deep. Stan’s age makes his actions a bit more understandable, but the sympathy you feel for any said character only goes so far because no one is in a situation that they either don’t deserve or have never really attempted to change. Happy Face has a lot to say about what the definition of beauty is and the extremes those desperate enough to attain that status might go through. Sometimes the people who seem healthiest are the sickest people on the planet.
© 2019 Chris Sawin