There’s so much running in Oh Lucy! that it’s almost tiring to watch it. Everyone is running “to” or running “from.” More than anything, they’re running “into” – into each other, into disappointment, into reality. The constant collisions make the film, much like a real-life collision, hard to watch and even harder to look away from.
Written by Atsuko Hirayanagi (who also directed) and Boris Frumin, Oh Lucy! is a familiar story unusually told. “Lucy” is the assigned name and enthusiastically adopted alter ego of Setsuko Kwashima (Shinobu Terajima), a woman in the midst of a mid-life crisis that seems to have been triggered by some combination of her colleague’s retirement, her close proximity to a stranger’s suicide, and her general ennui. When her niece, Mika (Shioli Kutsuna) asks her to buy roughly $5,600 worth of English lessons off of her, Setsuko hesitates but concedes once she is charmed by the unique lesson and the instructor with an inclination toward hugging. That instructor, John (Josh Hartnett), offers Setsuko a new name and a blonde wig, and suddenly, all of “Lucy”’s boundaries seem to be redrawn in a much more expansive way.
The beauty of Oh Lucy! is how well it demonstrates how quickly situations can shift: there is a thin line between Lucy’s healthy liberation and her complete destruction. Several relationships in this movie go from flawed in a way that’s relatable to poisoned in a way that’s toxic in the blink of an eye. Multiple times in Oh Lucy!, the “point of no return” comes and goes before you even realize there was an intersection.
The core of the slippery nature of this film is the relationships, and particularly the relationships Setsuko has with the other characters. All of the relationships start in places that feel relatable and familiar: Setsuko is a sister enmeshed in a complicated sibling rivalry, an aunt spoiling her niece, and a woman with a crush on her English instructor. As she becomes more liberated, more comfortable exploring the “Lucy” side of herself, she begins pushing more for what she wants and working harder to take what she needs. It’s the sort of thing a female writer/director (as Hirayanagi is) would often applaud and reward in her characters. But in this case, as Setsuko’s decisions get even slightly more reckless, they increasingly feel like they carry outsized consequences. It feels like she’s burning bridges simply by carrying a matchbook in her purse.
It’s an unsettling message in some ways, and a disconcerting one: stay in your lanes, ladies. It’s a big, wide world, and you could lose everything if you’re not very, very careful. But as the film comes full circle, it becomes clear that maybe the thesis is a more nuanced one. Maybe the idea here is that you can lose just about everything, and it can still be your best possible outcome. Even if you didn’t mean to burn the bridges, even if you regret it, if there was nothing on the other side worth visiting, did you really lose anything in the end besides the burden of useless bridge upkeep?