ODE TO JOY was inspired by a true story written by Portland writer Chris Higgins for the radio program and podcast This American Life called “I’ve fallen in love and I can’t get up.” in June 2010.  Despite centering around a serious debilitating condition of narcolepsy called cataplexy which is exactly what it sounds like…

CATAPLEXY – a medical condition in which strong emotion or laughter causes a person to suffer sudden physical collapse though remaining conscious (very rare, occurs in only about 20,000 people per year) 

…this cute Rom-Com delivers some real moments. with Martin Freeman starring as Charlie, who’s narcolepsy is activated when he’s happy, so he must find new ways to not feel joy. This becomes especially problematic when he falls in love with the beautiful Francesca (played by Morena Baccarin – with just the right amount of crazy).  Francesca, used to being pursued, is puzzled when her pursuit of Charlie sends him on an a journey to avoid her, finding ever newer ways to make himself miserable. ODE TO JOY is in theaters and on video-on-demand today, August 9th.

We talk to Director Jason Winer (Arthur, Modern Family) about cataplexy and Rom-coms.


AMFM Magazine: Cute movie, stellar cast, what made you decide to direct it?

Jason Winer: My involvement in this began eight years ago when one of the producers, Mike Falbo, came to me with  piece that was done by This American Life about a disorder called cataplexy. If somebody has cataplexy they can collapse if they experience extreme emotion. I felt like it was such a unique obstacle for romantic comedy. I love romantic comedies  be it When Harry met Sally or Annie Hall. In recent years the genre has slowed down, maybe petered out, because we’ve run out of original obstacles to keep couples apart. This was an entirely unique obstacle I’d never seen before.

AMFM: Can you tell me about the writing of it?

Jason Winer: Once we had the This American Life piece and the idea for the film, producer Mike Falvo and I set about trying to find the right writer. We found Max Werner who is an Emmy winner for his work on the Colbert Report, but had also written an incredible script that was on the black list called Fun Size. We loved Max, he had a great take for approaching this as a film. We worked on the story together for a year and then sold it as a pitch to Sony pictures. During that year, the business changed. By the time we delivered the script to Sony, they said, “this is incredible, it’s everything you guys pitched us. It’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s heartfelt, but we don’t make this budget level movie anymore.”

AMFM: What year was that?

Jason Winer: This is a guess, but I’m going to say 2013.

AMFM: I’m hearing that from different people about the business changing. You’re not the first one that’s said that.

Jason Winer: We set about to make it ourselves and put it together. Sony was very gracious about allowing us to do that, but the process is hard. When you don’t have any money to offer people, it’s hard to get them to read it, you know? It took a while to build up fans of the script. I give Martin (Freeman) so much credit, not just for being a conscientious reader of material that comes his way but in seeing the potential of the script and seeing how unique the story was, and for attaching. Once he did the rest of the cast came together beautifully around him.

AMFM:  Martin Freeman was first on board as an actor?

Jason Winer: Yes.

AMFM: You also had Jane Curtin, and it was such a cool assemblage of different personalities, Jake Lacy, Marina Baccarin, Melissa Rauch – who was so deadpan funny. They all just fit perfectly with the story. How do you think people who actually have have this disorder, rare as it is, will react to your film? More specifically, to detractors who say you’ve not represented the condition accurately?

Jason Winer: We took great care to be as accurate as we could about the disorder. However, the people that have issue with it have generally haven’t seen it and the people who are supporting it generally have. I would ask people to keep an open mind until they see the film and realize that we’re treating it with complexity, respect and specificity. I think the issue that some people have online is fair. They’re taking issue with the fact that in the trailer Martin summarizes the disease by saying if he gets too happy, he passes out. And the truth is that most of the time people who are living with cataplexy, when they have an episode they remain conscious, they just lose muscle control. It would be more accurate to say that they crumbled to the ground. So we summarized that for dramatic effect by saying “passing out” as he’s trying to explain the disease for Bethany. But if they see the film in general, they’ll see that we are accurate about the effects of the disease, including the fact that he stays awake.

AMFM: It’s such a little known disease that the fact that you’re even bringing it to the attention of people who’ve never heard of it before is a great thing. I never knew cataplexy was part of narcolepsy, for example. Are you doing more to educate the public about it?

Jason Winer: There’s going to be a link to a resources page on the IFC website for the film, so that we are spreading awareness. If people are suffering from something like this and they don’t know what it is, they can find information about it. We’re also shooting a PSA about the disease that’ll go online in conjunction with the film.

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