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A few second thoughts on movies (En Ra Ha edition)

Posted by Ty Burr  December 24, 2008 11:35 AM

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I watched "Happy-Go-Lucky" again last night, this time with the wife and daughters. My few reservations about the movie remain but I was taken more than ever with Eddie Marsan's terrific performance as the sour, teeth-gnashing driving instructor Scott -- the yin to Poppy's yang, the dark cloud in her silver lining. I still think the character betrays the limitations of director Mike Leigh's approach to moviemaking (he builds the script up from extended improvisational work with the actors). Scott is such a compendium of foul beliefs and conspiratorial paranoias that I never quite bought him as a person: He really is a product of an actor's workshop. Yet on this viewing, Marsan papered over the cracks of my disbelief, especially when he pops his cork toward the end and showers Poppy (Sally Hawkins) with a torrent of invective that proves how little he actually understands her. The expression on Scott's face is that of a little boy who can no longer hold in his sorrow at a world that doesn't play fair. He thinks he's raging when he's really keening.

The daughters picked this up, by the way, and bandied it about (Eliza: "He's such a creep." Natalie: "No, he isn't. He's a sad little man."). Other aspects of "Happy-Go-Lucky" came in for post-screening chatter as well, such as the subplot about the bully in Poppy's class and her encounter with the homeless man. It's a surprisingly rich movie for young adolescents if you don't mind a little British gutter-talk and one discreet prelude to a shag. I think Leigh had posed a new one for the girls: Is it possible to be truly happy in this world? And does that have something to do with being (and doing) good? You have to like the movies that take a while to sink in.

On a semi-related note, faithful reader Al Chase adores "Slumdog Millionaire" and has posted the response of an Indian-born friend, a US Army officer named Rajiv Srinivasan, to the movie on his blog. Thoughtful reading.

Finally, happy holidays to all this blog's constant readers. I'm off and won't be posting for a couple of weeks, part of which will be spent on a cruiseship with my wife's extended family. I have never been on a cruise before, and since my only knowledge of the experience comes from the stateroom scene in "A Night at the Opera" and reading the late David Foster Wallace's brilliant essay "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" (linked here under its original Harper's title, "Shipping Out" -- this is essential reading, folks), I am properly terrified. In any event, the best of the season to you and yours. Here's to an interesting 2009.

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2 comments so far...
  1. Hey Ty,

    I thought that HGL felt too much like a workshop production in general. There were some moments of feeling between Poppy and her sisters, but overall, the film was lacking for me. The one scene that rang false was her interaction with the homeless fellow after her walk. It was weird and felt tacked on to the story to show another side of her.

    Scott began to lose his meaning for me once he spouted too many paranoid theories. I wouldn't think that even someone so optimistic as Poppy would want to have a conversation with him after he stalked her.

    Happy new year.

    Posted by Peter December 31, 08 12:07 PM
  1. Slumdog Millionaire: This time around I am unanimously against all - almost ALL - critics who hailed this an exhilarating masterpiece. What a damn shame! A joyous ride to the hilt or not, it is an out and out Bollywood trash clothed in semi-western sensibilities. Till the end I was hoping for a miracle, a deus ex machina to intervene and save this horrendous contrivance. Talk about setting expectations. The plot device is as
    novel as curried-chicken or coconut chutney. Brothers get orphaned for starters. Alright, here, am willing to ignore the overtones of the minority appeasing western media. See, a Hindu mob riots and kills innocent Muslims and thus the parents. The interrogating police officials have conspicuous Hindu names and yes, the protagonist is named Jamal - or Oliver Twist or some such that rhymes well. NYTimes Sunday section told me about the restriction placed on Danny Boyle (the brilliant "Trainspotting" and some other ordinary ones) to not to use the 'police commissioner' tag for the torture routine and instead to depict a lower level cop to officiate it (why this cop becomes a clown in subsequent scenes is a moot question), about the hassles he faced to obtain shooting permits, about the sudden changes to the city-scape overnight (true, given Bombay developers), and above all, the raw intensity of being in Bombay slums shooting Bombay slums. Got that. I am sure was an exhilarating experience for Boyle! Now, back to the brothers: these brothers grow up as a standard edition good guy and bad guy. Oh, don't forget the orphan girl whom the younger brother (of course, the good one) takes a shine to - this when they were hardly 5 or 6 years old. This deep, true love is
    untarnished as bloody years pass by. Naturally, deep true love in movies always do. In this melee, organized crime in the form of child-begging units and underworld Don caricatures get thrown in. The ubiquitous A.R.Rahman (the gifted, brilliant music director) licks every bit of the choreographed chase scenes with stereophonic masala music. I am sure he factored a bare minimum number of chase scenes as part of his contract - you see, there aren't any songs disrupting the narrative. The overarching thread is the actual Indian edition of Who-Wants-to-be-a-Millionaire show anchored by (oh, is he sleezy!) Anil Kapoor.
    Yes, the entire system and the establishment is against this slumdog orphan, you see. What (somewhat) saves the day is the narrative via flash-backs. As each question is asked, we are shown the respective vignette from Jamal's life that inadvertently help him to answer. Nice.
    By the way, Jamal is suspected of cheating. So he gets tortured brutally for no rhyme or reason. Well, eventually the good cop lets him go and so Jamal leaves the station to attend his 'final question' & the impending climax with his makeup intact. The nation stops, gasps and weeps. And some of us Argh! Will the boy and the girl meet in the end to live forever and evah? You tell me. How much ever Boyle try to legitimize this exercise with "current India" themes (don't forget the call centers), the Hindi dialogs with subtitles, and local non-actors (another saving grace), it still comes off phony.The tongue-in-cheek yet real Bollywood dance-and-song routine in the end is delightful.

    PS: I could see Jamal and his chums from Bombay going, What a Crock of Bull! - in English.

    Posted by Shambho Krishnasamy January 2, 09 08:43 PM
 

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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

Mark Feeney is an arts writer for The Boston Globe.

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