Happy-Go-Lucky

Happy-Go-Lucky movie poster

 

Poppy (Sally Hawkins) is a crea­ture rarely encoun­tered in movies and even less in real life: some­one gen­uinely happy. She’s not both­ered by oth­ers’ life goals; at 30, she doesn’t have a baby or a boyfriend, own a house, or know how to drive. Relent­lessly chip­per, upbeat, and out­go­ing, she’s best friends with her room­mate (a true rar­ity!) and has already found the career pos­si­bly most suited for her (she’s a gifted, com­pas­sion­ate pri­mary school teacher). Her one van­ity seems to be that she’s proud of her legs.

In con­ver­sa­tion, Poppy always finds a way to agree with almost any­thing any­one says. We first meet her chat­ter­ing away at a sullen book­store clerk. Hav­ing seen Hawkins inter­viewed around the time of her Oscar nom­i­na­tion, it’s all the more appar­ent she’s affect­ing a Cather­ine Tate impres­sion for the movie. Like Tate, Poppy just barely skirts the edge of being annoy­ing to the audi­ence as well, which con­sid­er­ing the reac­tions Poppy pro­vokes from cer­tain other char­ac­ters later in the film, prob­a­bly says more about me than it does her. Poppy’s other major strat­egy in life is to find a new oppor­tu­nity in every set­back. A back injury sends her gig­gling all the way onto an excit­ing adven­ture to a chi­ro­prac­tor. Hav­ing her bicy­cle stolen pro­vides another open­ing for a new expe­ri­ence: dri­ving lessons.

happy_go_lucky_2.jpgYou’re dri­ving me mad! See what I did there? No? Too easy?

Unfor­tu­nately for them both, her new tutor is the unsta­ble, fero­ciously angry Scott (Eddie Marsan). Just a few of Scott’s many neu­roses include racism, homo­pho­bia, reli­gious fer­vor, and con­spir­acy the­o­ries. His most para­noid rant (regard­ing the Wash­ing­ton Mon­u­ment sup­pos­edly being 666 feet tall — appar­ently a rumor stem­ming from the mis­re­ported height of its foun­da­tion) echoes those of the sim­i­larly dam­aged Johnny (David Thewlis) from Mike Leigh’s excel­lent Naked (1993). Is Marsan the most ver­sa­tile actor ever? He’s played every­thing from a sweet-natured man almost par­a­lyzed by shy­ness in Leigh’s Vera Drake, to a tough preacher in 21 Grams, to a ruth­less crim­i­nal who keeps los­ing extrem­i­ties in Han­cock. Yes, Hancock.

Most nar­ra­tives are usu­ally struc­tured around a protagonist’s prob­lem. How do you tell a story about some­one that has no prob­lems? Happy-Go-Lucky defied my expec­ta­tions that the story would go one of three ways:

  1. Poppy’s happy-go-lucky atti­tude is a defense mech­a­nism mask­ing an inner sad­ness. Events con­spire that force her to con­front and defeat her inner demons. Every­one cries, then laughs. Happy end­ing. Pic­ture a young Julia Roberts.
  2. Poppy con­fronts a huge tragedy that nearly breaks her spirit. She over­comes the obsta­cle. Every­one cries, then laughs. Happy end­ing. Pic­ture Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful.
  3. Poppy meets some­one deeply sad and unhappy, her polar oppo­site. She fixes this bro­ken per­son with the power of her indomitable spirit. Every­one cries, then laughs. Happy end­ing. Pic­ture Robin Williams help­ing Jeff Bridges heal in Fisher King (although it may seem like I’m mock­ing it here, Terry Gilliam and Richard LaGravenese’s Fisher King is actu­ally one of my favorite movies).

happy_go_lucky_1.jpglat­i­tude, lon­gi­tude, pos­i­tive attitude

While Poppy’s hap­pi­ness is totally gen­uine, she is not deranged. She does not deny that prob­lems and sad­ness exist in the world and in other people’s lives. Nor does she believe that any­one else can sim­ply shrug off their set­backs, depres­sion, or inner demons. The above sce­nario to which Happy-Go-Lucky comes clos­est is the third. Scott and one of Poppy’s sis­ters are as sad and messed up as she is happy. She tries to help, but rec­og­nizes she is unable to fix them. The truly sad real­iza­tion for the audi­ence at the end is that we see that Poppy knows she must keep her dis­tance from her sis­ter and stop try­ing to befriend Scott. Her mere pres­ence in their lives dri­ves them crazy.


Offi­cial movie site: happygoluckythemovie.com

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

O Lucky Man!

O Lucky Man!

 

Over the course of its truly epic length of 177 min­utes, Lind­say Ander­son’s O Lucky Man! (1973) picks up the con­tin­u­ing saga of Mick Travis (Mal­colm McDow­ell) from If… (1968; read The Dork Report Review). While If.… used a British pub­lic school as a metaphor­i­cal micro­cosm with which to sat­i­rize British class cul­ture, O Lucky Man! widens its lens to take in all of Eng­land for its bleak por­trait of cap­i­tal­ism tri­umphant. Travis appears to have matured out of his school­boy fan­tasy of per­pe­trat­ing a school mas­sacre and has since joined the cor­po­rate world. Because of McDowell’s inher­ently imp­ish per­sona, one might not expect his char­ac­ter here to be sin­cere, but Travis is now ruth­less and gen­uinely will­ing to endure any­thing to climb the lad­der of profit and social advance­ment. Early on, he is urged by a senior col­league to “try not to die like a dog,” but it’s a warn­ing he is never equipped to quite comprehend.

O Lucky Man!When do we live?

His jour­ney is so long and involved that it would hardly count as a spoiler to recount it here: Travis is pro­moted from the low­est rung on the cor­po­rate lad­der all the way up to a high-level mis­sion set up to fail. As he is ordered around the Eng­lish coun­try­side by his office­bound supe­ri­ors, he becomes lost on the way to Scot­land, is arrested and tor­tured by the army, sur­vives a mil­i­tary strike by an unseen enemy, stum­bles into an idyll, is nursed back to health (er, lit­er­ally), donates his body to med­ical research, falls in with Alan Price’s tour­ing band (includ­ing groupie Patri­cia (Helen Mir­ren)), talks his way into the employ of the most venal busi­ness­man in Eng­land after his pre­vi­ous assistant’s timely sui­cide (a prime exam­ple of Travis’ alleged “luck”), becomes party to ille­gal chem­i­cal weapons sales in a corporate-funded civil war in a third-world nation, takes the fall for his boss, is impris­oned to five years of hard labor, is evi­dently reformed, tries and fails to talk a poor woman out of sui­cide with a hilar­i­ous litany of trite plat­i­tudes, is robbed and becomes home­less, tries to pros­e­ly­tize like Jesus and is, finally and fit­tingly, stoned by his peers. But in the the end, he is dis­cov­ered as a future movie star.

O Lucky Man!So long and thanks for the milk

An early form of David Sherwin’s script was writ­ten by McDow­ell him­self, based on his own expe­ri­ences as a cof­fee sales­man. I think it’s fair to pre­sume that the begin­ning and end­ing are drawn directly from McDowell’s life story. At oppo­site ends of the film, the for­tu­nate Travis is cho­sen from the masses for higher call­ings. The young man at the begin­ning is all too eager to com­mence his jour­ney, but the beaten-down and dis­il­lu­sioned man at the end is no longer able to take any plea­sure out of his unlucky luck.


Must read: every­thing you could pos­si­bly want to know about O Lucky Man, from MalcolmMcDowell.net

Offi­cial movie site: www.lindsayanderson.com/o_lucky_man.html

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.

If.…

If....

 

If.… is the first in direc­tor Lind­say Anderson’s tril­ogy of films fea­tur­ing Mal­colm McDow­ell as the Mick Travis, whose mis­ad­ven­tures con­tinue in O Lucky Man! and Bri­tan­nia Hos­pi­tal. Every­thing I read about the tril­ogy repeats the same word to descibe Travis: “every­man.” On the evi­dence, I take this to mean Travis is a blank slate, a shape­less per­son pushed and molded by the forces of soci­ety about him. If.… begins with the epi­gram “Wis­dom is the prin­ci­pal thing; there­fore get wis­dom; and with all thy get­ting, get under­stand­ing” from The Book of Proverbs, but an even bet­ter state­ment of the film’s themes is spo­ken my Travis him­self: “When do we live? That’s what I want to know.”

The ini­tially real­is­tic por­trayal of life at a British pub­lic school, filmed at Chel­tenham Col­lege but referred to sim­ply as “Col­lege”, includes frank depic­tions of the cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment and homo­sex­u­al­ity (mostly repressed but in one case, gen­uine young love). The pupils’ lives are so reg­i­mented and ordered that even vir­tu­ous activ­i­ties such as study­ing are for­bid­den if not con­ducted at the proper time and place. Most of the ram­pant cru­elty and capri­cious­ness comes from Whips (the senior class, with priv­i­leges) and is sanc­tioned, or rather, will­fully ignored by the aloof adult fac­ulty. It becomes clear the school is satir­i­cal micro­cosm of the British class soci­ety: a self-perpetuating sys­tem in which the young under­class­men “Scum” even­tu­ally grow into the roles of the oppressors.

If....I think I’ll call you Mini-Malcolm

Much of the stu­dents’ time is pre­oc­cu­pied with para­mil­i­tary war games couched in reli­gion. As the school chap­lain admon­ishes them, “Jesus is your com­mand­ing offi­cer.” The ser­mon also instructs that deser­tion is the worst wartime crime, and as all Chris­tians are born with orig­i­nal sin, all are like­wise desert­ers. Dur­ing one war game, Travis and friends delib­er­ately shoot live rounds at their own com­rades. Curi­ously, the head­mas­ter mildly scolds them as if they had com­mit­ted an infrac­tion as naughty as nip­ping at the com­mu­nal wine. But the first irrefutable instance of the film’s turn towards sur­re­al­ity is when the head­mas­ter pro­duces a fac­ulty mem­ber from within a cup­board drawer for whom Travis to apologize.

From this point on, it is clear at least some of Travis’ expe­ri­ences are fan­tasy. And what do teenage boys fan­ta­size about but hook­ing up with hot girls and vio­lently lash­ing out at ene­mies? He beds a beau­ti­ful wait­ress (Chris­tine Noo­nan) in a vio­lently ani­mal­is­tic cou­pling, who might very well be another fig­ment of his imag­i­na­tion. Together they uncover a cache of weapons and pick­led med­ical anom­alies in the school base­ment (his sub­con­scious?), includ­ing a grotesque human fetus. Travis’ anar­chic ado­les­cent fan­tasies cli­max with a mas­sive school shoot­ing dur­ing a nau­se­at­ingly patri­otic fes­ti­val hon­or­ing The Cru­sades. Unlike the con­sid­er­ably more tragic school shoot­ings typ­i­cal to films made in an era of actual teen mas­sacres like Columbine (in films as diverse as Ele­phant, Empire Falls, and The Bas­ket­ball Diaries), Travis’ war is a com­i­cally car­ni­va­lesque affair and the con­se­quences fall offscreen.

If....Mmmf mmmmf mmff mmmmfff.…

Mis­cel­lany:

• The oth­er­wise spiffy Cri­te­rion Col­lec­tion DVD edi­tion appears to be a cen­sored cut, not the X-rated full ver­sion orig­i­nally screened in some parts of the world.

• The assis­tant direc­tor was Steven Frears, who went on to direct Dan­ger­ous Liaisons, High Fidelity, and The Queen. In the Cri­te­rion DVD bonus fea­tures, Frears states that If.… was filmed at the same time as the Paris Riots in 1968, lend­ing pow­er­ful imme­di­acy to the theme of vio­lent stu­dent rebellion.

• The film alter­nates between black & white and color film stock. There are con­flict­ing expla­na­tions accord­ing to Wikipedia, but the pri­mary moti­va­tions seemed to have been that of bud­get and time (black & white film tak­ing less time to light for). Ander­son, how­ever, liked the “tex­ture” and con­tin­ued to use the device. It is appar­ently not to be under­stood to delin­eate real­ity vs. fantasy.

• Mick repeat­edly plays the music “Sanc­tus” from Missa Luba, an African-tinged ver­sion of the Latin Mass. Dif­fi­cult for mod­ern ears to believe, but it was a hit sin­gle at the time. (also from Wikipedia)

• Full of inter­est­ing tid­bits, Wikipedia also cites a visual allu­sion to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger in McDowell’s first appear­ance, show­cas­ing his instantly rec­og­niz­able eyes.


Must read: every­thing you could pos­si­bly want to know about If.… from MalcolmMcDowell.net

Offi­cial movie site: www.lindsayanderson.com/if.html

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.