A young man in denial about his mother’s terminal cancer infiltrates a support group for people with facial disfigurations in Happy Face. Stan (Robin L’Houmeau) is a 19-year-old Montreal man, whose cancer-stricken mother Augustine (Noémie Kocher) has recently gone into palliative care. Unable to cope with his mother’s terminal condition, Stan tapes up his face and joins a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy workshop for individuals with facial disfigurations headed up by Vanessa (Debbie Lynch-White), who has her own self-esteem issues involving her weight. Even though Stan is quickly found out as an imposter, he stays with the group to help the members deal with their individual issues.
Happy Face is a film from director and co-writer Alexandre Franch (The Wild Hunt) about a young man using the self-esteem issues of others to try and deal with his own denial about his dying mother. The film features a cast of real individuals with various facial deformities, which includes the elderly Otis (David Roche), burn victim Jocko (E.R. Ruiz), aspiring model Maggie (Alison Midstokke), and shopkeeper Buck (Cyndy Nicholsen). Using various “Dungeons & Dragons” characters as rewards, Stan tries to find a way to help each of the group members resolve problems in their personal lives.
Happy Face is an often quite affecting and darkly humorous drama that deals with issues of self-esteem, grief, and body image. On one hand, Happy Face is an inspirational film about these deformed individuals trying to look past the way society treats them. However, the film also has a very dark undertone, since Stan is in a way exploiting the problems of these individuals to deal with his own internalized denial about his dying mother. In fact, by the end of Happy Face, you are left questioning who the truly ugly people are.