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Washtenaw Flaneurade
8 November 2008
Smelling The Ham Of Truth
Now Playing: Of Montreal--"Vegan In Furs"

Listening to the radio and going online over the past week, it's struck me in a kind of rolling barrage how strange the election has made everything. Realizing that sane, centrist, and possibly even liberal policies might actually be possible--infrastructure investment, open acknowledgement of global warming (let alone strategies to fight its effects), narrowing the gap between rich and poor, this diplomacy thing--is a little disorienting. There are going to be hard economic facts to face in the meantime, but if anything, my optimism has increased, to the point where I actually have optimism. So much of my outlook on life had been influenced by the appalling effects of the past eight years, and I suppose I'm trying to wrap my head around visualizing a future again that doesn't involve a post-apocalyptic scenario in which everyone worships Chainsaw Jesus. Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo has a similar, if more high-minded, reaction. In a way, it's a little disappointing. Had things gone differently, I was provisionally prepared to give up on civic engagement and spend my entire free time watching Harvey Birdman: Attorney-at-Law and eating pizza until I exploded like a punctured zit. So that's cool.

Happy-Go-Lucky (2008): Mike Leigh's a director whose work I've enjoyed in the past but haven't really adored, apart from the Mikado biopic Topsy-Turvy (2000). I'm not a big Gilbert and Sullivan fan, but it was one of the best historical films I'd ever see, the conversational nature of Leigh's dialogue dispelling the portentous stench that hangs around so many films set in the past. Life Is Sweet (1991) was pretty good, although I respected Naked (1994) a lot more than I liked it. David Thewlis' scabrous performance won deserved raves, but my heart went out to Clare Skinner's hilarious control-freak character at the end. Some of his more famous works, like Secrets and Lies (1995) or Vera Drake (2006), I haven't seen at all. When I heard about Happy-Go-Lucky, I was intrigued. Poppy (Sally Hawkins) is a primary (elementary) school teacher in London who manages her life with an infectiously goofy good cheer, no matter what happens. The latter include testy interactions with Scott (Eddie Marsan), her driving teacher, her problematic family, and a handsome social worker she ends up dating. It's hard to describe Hawkins' performance save to say that I felt like I'd been run over by a tank--in a good way. In other hands, Poppy could have become intensely annoying (others certainly may find her so), but Hawkins actually makes her a believable character who just happens to be incredibly nice, which I find more than a little subversive in today's cinema. I worried at times that Poppy's free-spirited innocence might turn farcically promiscuous or misogynistic, but such wasn't the case, and it made the whole thing more fascinating. Her relationships with friends and with those her personality throws off-kilter reminded me of Leigh's earlier Career Girls (1997), in which Mark Benton's mentally damaged character finally turns on the two title characters. Poppy's also no pushover, forcefully reacting when bullied, but refusing to let it alter her general personality. In this she reminded me not of one of Leigh's characters but of Kate Dollenmayer's Marnie in Andrew Bujalski's Funny Ha Ha (2002). Marnie's problem wasn't so much that she was overly nice but that she was listless and apathetic. She never let that get in the way, though, when stakes were relatively high, either when stopping a drunk friend from driving or taking her creepy admirer (hilariously played by the director) to task for potentially violent antisocial behavior. Poppy's much the same, only preserving her happiness rather than her apathy.  The supporting cast is excellent, especially Marsan, who makes his character amusing, menacing, and pathetic at once, but it's Hawkins' show, and she left me dazed.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 5:21 PM EST
Updated: 16 November 2008 1:25 PM EST
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