Happy Face: Review | film reviews, interviews, features

Stan (Robin L’Houmeau) still lives with his mother, Augustine (Noémi Kuchler) a former model and Stan has inherited her good looks. His favourite past time besides picking up women and using them for sex is playing Dungeons and Dragons and so whereas those two hobbies don’t seem to mix, he’s living the easy life and still dotes on his mother for everything.

Stan also spends time with a support group for people with facial disfigurements, he bandages and tapes his face so that he looks like one of them and listens to them as they talk about their lives. However, as Stan’s influence on the group grows deeper, he realises that for better or worse, they’re all complex and unique individuals, just as they want the world to see them.

Happy Face is a drama directed by Alexandre Franchi and co-written by Joelle Bourjolly and it goes against a lot of what people usually see when they see disabled people being portrayed in cinema. For one, the support group comprises of real people with real facial differences and not just non-disabled people in make-up.

Vanessa (Debbie Lynch-White) runs the support group and because of being teased about her size for her entire life, she feels like she’s one of them because of the way people treat her despite having no facial difference. However, Stan starts to see that her CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) approach isn’t working and decides to show them a different way of thinking and a more Cyrano de Bergerac approach to life.

Whereas other films would use this as an able saviour trope, seen in such films as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Intouchables, Happy Face subtly plays with these kinds of tropes, even in a scene where Stan is playfully called out for doing it.

Instead, Happy Face is a film that subverts the expectations of the audience, but doesn’t do it in a way to show how good and progressive it is. It shows that there are still people behind the disability and that even Stan has his own problems and insecurities about growing up.

Happy Face is not another movie just to make non-disabled people feel good and be glad that it’s not them. It shows the difficulties of living in a world where if you don’t fit in then you have to adapt to make yourself comfortable. Although the question is whether the world should really adjust for them.

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By Matt Conway / 16th December 2020

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