Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Underrated Movie #17: Happy Go Lucky

Recent Movies Week, Day 3:

Title: Happy Go Lucky
Year: 2008
Director: Mike Leigh (Secrets and Lies, Topsy Turvy)
Writer: Mike Leigh (and the whole cast, because he develops his scripts as part of a workshop process)
Stars: Sally Hawkins (“Persuasion”), Eddie Marsan (Sherlock Holmes)

The Story: A powerfully optimistic schoolteacher in determined to cheer up others in working class London, even against stubborn opposition.

How it Came to be Underrated: For me, Mike Leigh is one of those directors who are just too prolific. When I first discovered his work, I went crazy for it and I couldn’t wait to see them all, but he’s made a movie every other year since the ‘70s, and he’s still going strong— It was too much of a commitment! When this came out, I thought, “Yup, another Mike Leigh film. I’m sure it’s great.” When I finally caught it on dvd, I kicked myself for having missed one of the best movies of the year.

Why It’s Great:

  1. It's another movie about women in which their problems are neither caused by nor solved by men! This is an even better example because, unlike the ladies in Clockwatchers, Hawkins and her friends all have a fairly healthy dating life. And yet there’s still lots of conflict that has nothing to do with that. It turns out that women occasionally have other problems to tackle.
  2. This movie was not at all what I expected from the trailer. I’ll admit it—I saw that this was a movie about a hopelessly cheerful heroine, so I assumed that something horrible would happen to her. Not just because Mike Leigh has made some very bleak movies, but also because… well, movies always ask, “what’s the worst that could happen?” Right? That’s the natural inclination of all screenwriters. But this movie pulls off a remarkable feat: they made a whole movie about how much toughness and courage it takes to just be positive. No artificial conflict required. Stopping a super-villain? That's easy. Loving humanity? That’s hard.
  3. Watch, for instance, Hawkins with her sniping family. We realize, paradoxically, how comforting it is to create tension—her sisters are totally at ease when arguing—and how difficult it is to be the peacemaker. This is a movie about the person who makes the painful choice to be the nice one.
  4. We root for Hawkins when she tries to spread love to a racist driving instructor or a scary homeless guy, but we also see how her personal philosophy can estrange her from others, such as when she blanches at a dance instructor who says that flamenco is all about demanding “my space!” Hawkins’s unwillingness to recognize boundaries is the secret of her power, but she knows that it can limit her, too.

Underrated Compared To: those movies in which plucky English workers rally together for the one big crazy solution to their problems. Finally, this was one movie that couldn’t be called “this year's The Full Monty

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: Good news, if you liked this one, there are a dozen other great Mike Leigh movies waiting for you!

How Available Is It?: On dvd and 'Watch Instantly'.

Today’s Post Was Brought To You By: We’ve Made It To Step Three!


Monica Edinger said...

Have you ever seen Leigh's Nuts in May? I believe it was a television film. Saw it years ago on DVD and thought it was hilarious, but wonder how I'd like it today.

Matt Bird said...

I liked "Nuts in May" quite a bit. Much quieter and gentler than a lot of Leigh's older work.