January 9, 2009

"Happy-Go-Lucky"

You may have wondered what is this movie "Happy-Go-Lucky" that keeps winning year-end awards from critics -- e.g.:

British comedy "Happy-Go-Lucky" has almost swept the 43 Annual National Society of Film Critics Awards on Saturday, taking home four trophies including Best Director for Mike Leigh.

Here's my review from a couple of months ago in The American Conservative:

“Happy-Go-Lucky,” five-time Oscar nominee Mike Leigh’s “quirky” and “offbeat” comedy about a young London schoolteacher who is, yes, happy-go-lucky, has enjoyed the most unanimous critical acclaim of any film this year. All 31 “Top Critics” on the Rotten Tomatoes website have given “Happy-Go-Lucky” their personal thumbs up. Indeed, star Sally Hawkins has a shot at an Oscar nomination because Academy members like to vote for obscure British actresses in low budget movies nobody has seen, such as Imelda Staunton’s Best Actress nod for Leigh’s last film, “Vera Drake.”

Leigh, a Best Director nominee for 1996’s “Secrets and Lies,” prides himself on improvising slice-of-life leftwing movies about the English working class, which this Royal Academy of the Dramatic Arts graduate knows all about because his physician father had proletarian patients.

Since he doesn’t work from a script, investors are cautious about investing in Leigh’s vague ideas. "My tragedy as a filmmaker now," he declaims, "is that there is a very limited ceiling on the amount of money anyone will give me to make a film.” So, the British National Lottery obligingly kicked in some of “Happy-Go-Lucky’s” budget.

Lotteries are notoriously a tax on stupidity; evidently, they are also a subsidy for vapidity because “Happy-Go-Lucky” is the worst movie by a prominent director since M. Night Shyamalan’s allergy allegory “The Happening.” Leigh’s film is smug, boring, plotless, and pointless, the perfect embodiment of the Obama Era of liberal self-congratulation.

To Leigh, Hawkins’s character “Poppy” is as adorable as the two Audreys: Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s" and Tatou in “Amélie.” To me, Hawkins is insufferable. Imagine a “Star Wars” prequel in which a female Jar-Jar Binks hogs the screen for the entire two hours. Poppy smirks, snickers, and sniggers, mugging like Jim Varney in those old “Hey Vern” movies, an overgrown class clown laughing relentlessly at her own jokes, which are never, ever funny.

There’s nothing more excruciating than watching people onscreen laugh, especially when they crack themselves up. (What’s really funny is seeing characters mortified with embarrassment.) In general, happy people aren’t very funny and funny people aren’t very happy. A friend had dinner in the 1990s with the famous comic Jackie Mason, and reported that it was a grim ordeal. Mason spent the evening complaining about how Ed Sullivan had “ruined his career” in 1964.

And how exactly did Poppy, a North Londoner, acquire her quasi-Australian accent? Her youngest sister, a drunken law student, talks like Sid Vicious, but Poppy sounds like the Crocodile Hunter. In a male actor, a working class Australian accent sounds manly yet affable (that’s why the U.S.-born Mel Gibson normally plays his American roles with an unexplained hint of Down Under in his voice), but on a woman it just sounds tomboyish and goofy.

Most of Leigh’s movies have been about the oppression of the proletariat, but by 2008 their values are apparently ascendant in London. Any character who thinks about the future—such as Poppy’s one married, home-owning sister—is scorned as a buzz-kill.

Most people in “Happy-Go-Lucky” have pleasant government jobs. Judging from this movie, the British welfare state exists mostly so people with soft college degrees can have some place to hang out together while making plans for which pub or disco to go to after work.

The only plot device consists of Poppy’s weekly driving lessons with a tightly wound little fundamentalist Christian with bad teeth, played by Eddie Marsan. I initially assumed these two equally unattractive single people would wind up settling for each other, but when he insists she lock the car doors when two black youths bicycle by, he demonstrates (in Leigh’s mental universe) that he is morally unworthy of her, and probably a dangerous psycho to boot.

Instead, Leigh hooks her up with a school social worker, who is played by a ludicrously handsome young actor who looks like one of those towering Olympic swimming medalists with massively masculine jawlines molded by years of Human Growth Hormone abuse.

One vignette of this momentum-free movie unwittingly exemplifies the female cluelessness that has made Britain’s schools a dystopia of juvenile male thuggishness. When one of her students starts punching other children, does Poppy punish him? No, she signs the bully up for counseling, which consists of three adults—the headmistress, Poppy, and her future boyfriend—sitting around praising the little lout and asking him what’s the real reason he hits people. (Actual answer: it’s fun.)

Rated R for language.
The other elderly British leftwing low budget improvisatory director whose last name begins with an L is Ken Loach, who directed "Land and Freedom" about the Spanish Civil War and "The Wind that Shakes the Barley" about the Irish Civil War. Perhaps a bit of a clunky director, but I find Loach more likable than Leigh.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Leigh is not only an upper middle class intellectual who makes left-wing films about the noble working class, he is a Jewish upper-middle class intellectual who... Somehow that makes him even more irritating and inauthentic to me, and I'm Jewish.

BGC said...

All true enough.

But you forgot Leigh's Gilbert and Sullivan biopic 'Topsy-Turvy' which is sheer delight - as perfect a movie as ever I hope to see.

One masterpiece redeems everything else.

Henry Canaday said...

Well I loved the only Leigh movie I have actually seen, "Topsy-Turvy," perhaps because it was about the one topic Leigh cannot romanticize because he really knows it, the endearingly grotesque behavior of showfolk.

Anonymous said...

The rancid parts of 'Naked' are superb.

simon said...

Nice demolition job, Steve. I live in London amongst these people, it's nice to see someone skewer them.

BTW my wife just found out that the person sitting opposite her in her 'soft government job' is an ex Marxist terrorist. Ho hum.

Anonymous said...

Judging from this movie, the British welfare state exists mostly so people with soft college degrees can have some place to hang out together while making plans for which pub or disco to go to after work.

Bang - And the ball goes straight into the back of the net! Superb observation.

Yes, Im British.

dhulq said...

I agree with the bulk of your post, although I will submit that my girlfriend thought the man you consider out-of-this-world handsome was just as ugly as every other character in this ugly, awful movie. Maybe the cab driver was worse.

I also found myself wearing a grim smile during the thoughtcrime scene ("lock your doors"). He went from sad sap to be redeemed by her relentless good cheer to subhuman monster in three words.

Bad, bad movie.

Anonymous said...

Mike Leigh also directed "Topsy-Turvy," a truly enjoyable romp about the great Gilbert & Sullivan ... and almost irrevocably spoiled it with clunky, superflous references to imperial abuses, heroin addiction, and abortion.

Presumably, Mike Leigh feels his taking public monies obligates him to keep his countrymen from casting a critical eye about their dreary, social democratic hellhole and drawing an unfavorable comparison to the reign of Victoria.

--Senor Doug

PeterW said...

You make it sound almost like a satire.

Drawbacks said...

I didn't bother going to see Happy-Go-Lucky because I knew Sally Hawkins would bring me out in a rash within 5 minutes. I think you're mishearing the supposed Australian accent, though.
However, despite his being guilty of caricature, condescension, occasional sentimentality and laying the message on too thick, I still have quite a lot of time for Mike Leigh. His TV play Abigail's Party is very funny, and Meantime, with early parts for Gary Oldman, Tim Roth and Alfred Molina is good, too. David Thewlis is said to be superb in Naked but I've never seen it.
I still probably prefer Ken Loach, but the late Alan Clarke, out of the same school, was even better. Made In Britain with Tim Roth is brilliant, even by the standards of films about skinheads, which are all good.

Anonymous said...

So you didn't even like Topsy-Turvy? Because I thought that was pretty great-- one of the best examinations about the actual mechanics of artistic collaboration, with all of its triumphs and frustrations, ever made.

But in general, yeah, I do sort of prefer Ken Loach's heart on sleeve earnestness to Leigh's faint aura of self-congratulation. But that's because Loach is basically a 1930s leftist instead of a 1960s one. Leigh is much too interested in working class identity politics to do a scene as interesting as the centerpiece of Land and Freedom, which is basically a big freewheeling discussion over whether it's more important to collectivize land first or prioritize winning the war.

James Kabala said...

One of the few other conservative movie reviewers had a completely different take on this film and the character: http://www.jamesbowman.net/reviewDetail.asp?pubID=1934

Since Bowman starts from most of the same basic premises as you and is usually even more cantakerous about it, this startled me and almost made curious to go see the movie and find out who was right. But I'm too afraid that you are right to make the attempt.

Ned said...

"The Wind That Shakes the Barley" is very well done although a bit heavy-handed. And I always found Jackie Masom insufferable.

Anonymous said...

"I also found myself wearing a grim smile during the thoughtcrime scene ("lock your doors"). He went from sad sap to be redeemed by her relentless good cheer to subhuman monster in three words."

That scene is a yet another deliberate attempt to break down our defences as whites. Protecting yourself = racism and that means babes won't like you!

albertosaurus said...

But you forgot Leigh's Gilbert and Sullivan biopic 'Topsy-Turvy' which is sheer delight - as perfect a movie as ever I hope to see.

Topsy-Turvy is a dreadful and completely wrong headed film.

This is a movie about G&S operetta in which none of he singers can sing. There will probably be another G&S movie in a decade or two but this generation has been gifted with the notion that the "Savoy operas" employed some kind of amature sprech-stimme vocalism.

The politics of Gilbert werw appaling and Sullivan too often wrote cloying ditties, but they were serious about musical theater. They cast real singers for the singing roles.

Most of the big second act finales were modeled on Donizetti. The audience was expected to get the joke. The joke falls flat when non-singing actors are employed.

ironrailsironweights said...

I've only seen one Leigh movie, 2002's All or Nothing, and while it was about the struggling working class it did not hold them out as somehow "noble" or blame the system for their woes. It was pretty clear that the characters' troubles were mainly their own doing. For instance, Phil, the main character (whose face bears a remarkable resemblance to a person's rear end, seriously) is a taxi driver who barely makes any money - not because the system is rigged against the working man, but because he's too lazy to get up early in the morning to catch the lucrative airport runs.

Peter

dearieme said...

I'm firmly in the pro-Topsy Turvy camp. Why don't you write about it, Steve - the Western "discovery" of the appeal of Japan?

testing99 said...

Well yes, Leftism = feminism and well, female values.

Most of leftism is really just status striving in female dominated fields, and more and more fields such as education are female dominated.

What else would a female dominated school system do? Offer punishment or discipline and demand responsibility? That does not exist in Britain (dominated by single women) and Leigh's film merely reflects modern British culture which is single women dominated.

See, Bridget Jones, or the Drudge New Year's link on all the drunken Brits, women passed out on the street and men "glassed."

Re the scene were the guy says "lock your doors" ... no competition is more deadly and brutal than that over women. People delude themselves that men will just "settle" for being alone while a few men (high status White lefty guys like Leigh) and various non-White tough guys monopolize all the women.

What the produces is a race to the bottom of tough-guy thuggish mentality. The reason all those Brit guys were "glassed" was that competition for women in Britain raced to the bottom of who can be the biggest thug. The end result of Leigh's PC world is not the female ostracism of "racist" White guys but men becoming the biggest thugs they can, to out-compete non-White thugs on the bottom side, and negate the status advantages of the Leighs.

A glass in the face would apparently trump either advantage.

Anonymous said...

Ugh, I just watched the trailer. That woman comes off as a mental retard. They couldn't pay me enough to sit through 2 hours of that crap.

Nick said...

I didn't bother going to see Happy-Go-Lucky because I knew Sally Hawkins would bring me out in a rash within 5 minutes. I think you're mishearing the supposed Australian accent, though.

Agreed on the accent, but I only saw this film because it had Sally Hawkins. I liked her a lot in Persuasion, but her heart-warming character here left me cold.

Something else I'm not sure of is Steve's characterisation of Scott, the driving instructor, as a 'fundamentalist Christian'; he seemed more like your typical iSteve reader! And whatever one may think of the film, Marsan was the best thing in it by a country mile. He deserves a Best Supporting Oscar nomination.

anony-mouse said...

1/ Well Ed Sullivan did ruin Mason's career, although Mason did make vulgar gestures that embarassed Sullivan. Actually I blame Lyndon Johnson for going on TV and initiating the misunderstanding.

2/ I'm shocked that people here would not applaud Leigh. He is one of those aging JINO's who signed an anti-Israel petition that got a lot of press in the UK.

3/ In fairness to Leigh there has been a lot of recent successes in the comedy world (Mandel, Stewart, Colbert) who have has great success violating the old comedian's rule about never laughing at your own jokes.

Simon said...

anon-y-mouse:

"I'm shocked that people here would not applaud Leigh. He is one of those aging JINO's who signed an anti-Israel petition that got a lot of press in the UK."

Umm, this isn't an anti-Israel blog. Steve's position is more that the US doesn't have a dog in the Israel-vs-Arabs fight. Maybe you're confused because he writes for TAC?

Drawbacks said...

Nick,
FWIW I have nothing against Sally Hawkins personally. In fact, she's quite likely giving a superb portrayal... of an extremely irritating character.

Big John Bagshaw said...

The politics of Gilbert were appalling...

As one who is distantly related to WS Gilbert (I've never seen a penny from his estate), would you care to elaborate on his objectionable politics?

Anonymous said...

I looked at the imdb photos for the movie.

Sally Hawkins, when she's smiling, looks retarded.

ReticentMan said...

It's hard for most people to accept, and I'm as guilty of this as anyone, that the same person can produce great and terrible work, because we get anchored to our first impression.

Naked is an astounding movie to me, and this movie being trash doesn't diminish that in any way.

Ronduck said...

simon said...

BTW my wife just found out that the person sitting opposite her in her 'soft government job' is an ex Marxist terrorist. Ho hum.

When my mother worked for the State of Arizona as a clerk she told me that the office had a socialist working there, complete with stacks of literature at his desk. Not a bombthrower, but it does seem to be where they all work.

James Kabala said...

Having seen the brief clip shown at the Golden Globes, I don't think Hawkins's voice in the movie sounds like an Australian accent either. Indeed, it sounded like the voice of singer Lily Allen, known for her fake working-class (or "Mockney") accent.

John of London said...

Steve, a bit OT, but have you ever reviewed Ken Loach's liberally-acclaimed Bread and Roses? This is about the struggles of mostly Latina, mostly illegal, immigrant office cleaners in LA. No-one seemed to care (or maybe know) that ten years or so earlier all those jobs were done by fully-unionised Black Americans, so that effectively Loach's Latina heroines were a bunch of scabs whose presence had enabled the employers to get rid of the unions. I first came upon your site looking for a someone who appreciated this aspect.

kaz said...

Chill dude- your review sounds like it was done by Scott-the paranoid, racist, socially akward driving instructor in the film.

-kaz