Ever met someone so damn happy you wanted to punch them? Pauline- call her Poppy- is one of those people. When we meet her, she has just gotten her bike stolen, and at first she’s crestfallen; then she perks up and says to herself, “I didn’t even get to say goodbye!” and traipses home. And we know exactly what to expect from Poppy. Or do we? Sally Hawkins builds a great character from the whole cloth, someone who seems ditzy and maybe even simple, but Mike Leigh’s latest movie Happy-Go-Lucky gives her great depth, and is immensely more satisfying in its refreshing outlook on life than the banal platitudes of The Curious Crap of Benjamin’s Butthole.
We get a lot of time to get to know Poppy. At first we just see her interact with friends and roommate, drinking and giggling. As we acclimate to her effervescent personality we barely question the clever wordplay she manages to infuse into daily life. Her roommate Zoe is more balanced, with sarcastic asides and an unfazeable demeanor, and it seems they’re perfect for each other. We don’t get a story so much as a slice of Poppy’s life; slowly Leigh peels away the layers, showing her job as a teacher of young children, her relationship with her older sister, and most interestingly, her driving lessons with a man who’s her polar opposite.
Scott, played by comedian Eddie Marsan, is a simmering hotpot of anger, guilt and relentless judgment. Everyone he sees has some failing, which is the first thing on his mind; if one isn’t available, he can predict one. Just as we all know someone like Poppy, we most certainly know someone as angry as Scott; it reminded me painfully of the person I was years ago, the angry young man railing against the apathy, discourtesy, and corruption of the world. He’s immediately funny because he’s a driving instructor with road rage, but as the character Marsan created reveals itself to us, we see him less as a caricature and more as a sad man who cannot be happy.
He teaches her how to drive by naming the mirrors after fallen angels. You’ll be saying En-rah-hay! next time you’re a passenger with someone you’ve seen this with. It’s with Scott, and with an angry boy at Poppy’s school that the story shines. Mike Leigh keeps things real and subtle, but makes the connections clear. As the adage goes, “Give me a child until the age of seven, and I will give you the man.” That is the mantra of Michael Apted’s incredicle series of documentaries known as “The Up! Series,” beginning with 7 Up! and following a set of schoolchildren every 7 years, the latest being at age 49. It gives a unique backward perspective of life that says more than Benjamin Button ever could.
Happy-Go-Lucky doesn’t have any lessons to hammer in; perhaps it wants us to think back on Jimmy Stewart’s character of Elwood P. Dowd in the ’50s comedy Harvey, where he plays a very happy man who everyone is concerned about because he talks to an invisible 6 foot rabbit. He once said, “My aunt told me, you can be one of two things in life- oh-so-clever, or oh-so-pleasant. For years I tried clever… I’d suggest ‘pleasant.'” Or to put it more succinctly, in Cormac MacCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, the old crippled uncle says in a line left out of the movie, “I think by a certain age a person decides whether or not they want to be happy.” Sometimes the choice is harder for us than others; Poppy not only made her choice, but tries to help people around her change their minds on the decision they made years ago, or are about to make, in her student’s case.
Sally Hawkins justly won the Golden Globe for best actress in a comedy or musical for her performance, and the boundless energy she channels- with its brief epiphanies, and moments of clarity- is one of the most uplifting experiences in cinema from last year. I’ve been hounded to see Mike Leigh’s Naked and Topsy-Turvy for years, and I’ll be viewing them soon. And why am I so against Benjamin Button? Mostly because I expected better from Fincher, and I’m amazed that it’s even being considered for best picture. And Ben Lyons is championing it, so I can’t let him win.
5 out of 5 En-rah-hays.
Slumdog Millionaire – golden globe for best picture: drama. It’s awesome to see a story like this win. It’s been a long time since a story like this, reminiscent of classics like Pressburger & Powell’s The Life and Times of Colonel Blimp, win big. Go Bollywood! And who says Americans won’t read (some) subtitles?
And holy shit Mickey Rourke gets best actor for The Wrestler! Go Mick! I’m really surprised that he beat Sean Penn. I think Mickey deserves it, but Penn was pretty amazing too. And he cutely thanks his dogs. He’s got 5 little dogs and he’ll kick your ass if you laugh at his chihuahuas.
Glad that Mad Men got best series, but the cameramen suck for focusing on the bald dudes when there’s hotties behind him. January Jones and Christina Hendricks please…
Kate Winslet wins another one! Wow. She should have won for Little Children two years ago, and now she’s cleaned up. Meryl Streep is going to have her killed.
Freida Pinto from Slumdog is still adorable.
Sascha Baron Cohen being funny and mean. And once again Woody Allen coasts on his rep from two decades ago with a mediocre comedy- Vicky Cristina Barcelona wins best comedy, despite being an insipid snoozer. Go see In Bruges or Happy-Go-Lucky instead; even Burn After Reading, despite being Coen Bros. coasting, was better than VCB.
Colin seems pretty nervous. He and Sally Hawkins don’t realize how good they were. Hell they might be acting it. Damn they’re good. They got me.
Yay Colin Farrell for the underrated In Bruges! A gay golden globe for my gay friend and a normal one for me because I am normal. Best actor in a comedy- though James Franco got a nice nom for Pineapple Express. Franco was great in Milk and got snubbed there.
Sigourney Weaver’s still got it. Ripley can be my Alien Queen anytime.
Danny Boyle gets the Best Director award he deserves. Personally I wanted Darren Aronofsky, but of those nominated- Opie Howard for Frost/Nixon, David Fincher for Forrest Gump 2, Sam Mendes for American Beauty: the 50s, he definitely deserves it. Slumdog is a blast, a retro Hollywood epic. Go see it. And then get some lamb korma.
Apparently when you’re old enough to win a Cecil B. DeMille award, you’re old enough to tell long rambling stories no one wants to hear. Clint Eastwood ought to go up there in character from Gran Torino and tell him to shut up.
Marty Scorsese! He’s turned into Ace Rothstein. And please stop sucking Spielberg’s cock.
Tina Fey, all the way! She’s pretty funny on twitter, too. Woman of the year with her Sarah Palin schtick, too. Way to go Tina. And Baby Mama was pretty funny, great for an SNL-related movie.
Slumdog handily picks up best score, too. And it’s a good one, too.
Apparently Glenn Close is wearing the drapes a la Gone With the Wind, and Lawrence Fishburne ate all of Seth Rogen’s leftovers. Morpheus looks more like Idi Amin.
Going by Seth “Nutrisystem” Rogen and Giammati, muttonchop ’70s sideburns are in! And I just shaved my Lemmy ‘stache off. Damn you, Firecracker!
Paul Giamatti for John Adams; he did a great job, and I always like it when fat little men get awards.
Alec Baldwin for 30 Rock; Duchovny probably lost because he got too into the part and had to go for sex addiction counseling. Baldwin joked about humiliating and belittling his daughter. I guess his Glengarry Glen Ross performance wasn’t much of a stretch.
Slumdog Millionaire for best screenplay; the direction was what made it, and the screenwriter even said so. Let’s see if Boyle gets the win, too.
John Adams is grabbing a lot of TV awards; it was quite good but not great, sparse year for mini-series.
Waltz in Bashir gets best foreign language film as expected. Must see it.
Heath Ledger gets a well-deserved award for The Joker; wtf is Tom Cruise nominated for Tropic Thunder for? To show the couch-hopping vitamin pusher still has a sense of humor? Robert Downey Jr. at least got a nom, he was fantastic in Tropic Thunder.
Wall-E deservedly wins best animated. No contest.
Meryl Streep looks embarrassed to be nominated for Mamma Mia.
Don Cheadle really needs to grow back his hair. And facial hair. He looks like he’s made of play-doh.
Glad Sally Hawkins won a GG for Best Actress for Happy-Go-Lucky. I called it and haven’t written my review yet, but it’s one of the year’s best films, and shows that you don’t have to be dark to be deep.
Kate Winslet for The Reader- glad she finally got one, but haven’t seen this yet. Marisa Tomei was great in The Wrestler, but she’ll never be forgiven for winning an Oscar for My Cousin Vinny.