Friday, 2 January 2009

The ninth day of Christmas (the annual New Year's Day movie)

For most of our marriage, the Resident Fan Boy and I have taken in a movie on New Year's Day. As I said yesterday, New Year's is rather a nothing sort of holiday, and seeing a movie not only gives us a focus for the day, but oddly enough, the movie seems to set the tone for the rest of the year. This means choosing carefully. Given how 2008 has been, I didn't think Doubt or Milk would be quite the boost we needed, although I do plan to see them before awards season kicks in. I decided to take in Happy-Go-Lucky. Minimal research seemed to reveal it was about a London school teacher who is...happy. A quick check at the Yahoo! Movies site hinted at a flick that was liked better by the critics than the viewing public, and indicated that the viewing public was split into two camps: those who loved it ("enchanting" "interesting" "funny"), and those who hated it ("boring", "pointless", "no &*%$#ing plot"). Seeing as I've liked the Mike Leigh films I've seen, I gambled that I'd fall into the former camp.

So the RFB and I found ourselves trudging through the streets on a crystal-clear and bitterly cold first January afternoon to the ByTowne Cinema, an arts movie house which is, fortunately in view of the continuing bus strike, a 25-minute trot from our house. It's an enormous old-fashioned cinema, complete with a balcony. As you take your seat, it's easy to spot the regulars. They're the ones circling the auditorium and giving you the evil eye because you've taken "their" seats. It occurred to me that I haven't been to the ByTowne in over a year. Since it's a repertory sort of system, it's a challenge catching the film you want at the time you can actually get to the theatre, especially since the 9 o'clock show is out of the question for me and I tend to nod off even at the 7 pm screenings, which leaves me only weekend matinées...

Watching Happy-Go-Lucky, I was rather pleased I'd read some reviews first, and thus was braced for the plotlessness. The film follows a few summer weeks in the life of Poppy (Sally Hawkins), and it does feel like we're trailing a supporting character of another movie, or of several other movies. Each of the characters Poppy encounters could have a film made about them: a grim book store owner, a slightly-unhinged flamenco dancer, a very unhinged driving instructor, a deranged street person, a troubled little boy who hits his classmates, even Poppy's relaxed room-mate or bickering sisters. And in each of these stories, Poppy would be the shining little bit part, or supporting role, or comic relief.

However, this movie is entirely from Poppy's point of view except for a brief glimpse of her room-mate at work in another school. And Poppy is...happy. And lucky. She's not oblivious; she is aware of suffering and does try to intervene, but she refuses to let anyone's misery pull her into the depths. She's lucky because she's a young, attractive, employed person with a circle of friends living in a particularly lovely version of London. The camera often sits back and lets you take in the whole of the scene, or linger on an interesting face in the background.

I suppose we're left with the question: Is Poppy happy because, as she says, she's lucky? Or has she chosen to have a sunny disposition, finding that this is what works best for her in coping with whatever wanders into her path? I left the movie quite liking Poppy, but wondering how irritating I'd find her in real life.

Part of the fun of watching a Mike Leigh film is recognizing faces in passing. If you look at the photo, you might recognize the flamenco student to Poppy's left and our right. It's Rebekah Staton who played Jenny/Mother of Mine in that most splendid of Doctor Who episodes, Human Nature/Family of Blood. Remarkably enough, she doesn't have a speaking part in this. I understand Mike Leigh's films are workshopped, so I suppose anything she had to say was edited out.

After the film, the Resident Fan Boy and I headed home. It was only four o'clock but the sun had nearly set, and the towers of Parliament Hill and the Basilica stood out darkly against the gold-rimmed sky. The deserted streets were white with the cold, not with snow, and I sadly realized that we only have three days left before returning to the strains and stresses of the everyday. What about me? Can I choose to be happy? Or am I not quite lucky enough?

1 comment:

bonnie-ann black said...

if you like mike leigh and enjoyed Happy-Go-Lucky, you might enjoy the movie reviews of the Flick Filosopher:

(and, no, i don't get paid to push her site, i just love her and her outlook).

movies on new year's eve and day are a pleasure -- so cozy and comfortable, without any pressure at all. some years, we make it a point to watch classic movies that we've never seen, other years, it's all three LotR movies in a row, with breaks for food (just like hobbits).

whatever your choice of pleasure, hope 2009 finds lots of it for you.