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I’m often one to go on about films that succeed without much of a plot. The actual story can take a back seat to the film’s characters and interesting themes or we can simply revel in its atmosphere. For every complaint from another Grouch about how nothing much happens in a movie there’s a reply from me talking about how it doesn’t matter because it’s actually a character-driven film, that the plot isn’t as important. Who cares when a story plods along if everything else is so right? Forget the usual conflict or plot twist if the film manages to fascinate us through other means.

So, um, Happy-Go-Lucky is kind of boring and nothing really happens.

It’s meant to be one of those character-driven films but I didn’t find the characters enthralling enough to hold my attention over its long spans of plotlessness. Sally Hawkins plays Poppy, a school teacher who is always genuinely happy. And it is a generally interesting character. Initially she comes off manic, like maybe she’s using her joy to mask insecurity or some sort of mental imbalance. But it’s not an act, she is just plain cheerful. And the happiness isn’t a mark of immaturity as we learn that she is grounded and certainly not naive.

And that’s a nice angle in such a cynical age. A character who’s just plain happy. Brilliant in its simplicity, no?

My problem was that it might be too simple. At some point Poppy’s cheer begins to feel one-note and even a little irritating. She doesn’t seem to express her own opinions much as scene after scene shows conversations where she simply agrees with whatever other people say even as they become contradictory. Her style of cheer is to goof around but not in a truly funny manner. She just sort of riffs without much in the way of joke development. And that’s not really all that interesting over time. It also drew away from the realism as Poppy and other characters snap off mildly amusing one-liner after mildly amusing one-liner.

There’s not much in the way of conflict. Eddie Marsan’s character is Poppy’s opposite: angry, rude, racist, short-tempered. I liked they way they play off each other for a while, but the conclusion felt a bit contrived. I’d like to see a sequel centered around him. A subplot with a pupil peters out and a scene with a homeless man is jut confusing.

So Hawkins was overlooked for Best Actress to many’s dismay but to my indifference. Sure I probably would have chosen her over Angelina Jolie but it’s not a great loss. The Original Screenplay nod is nice as something different and it does develop a fairly interesting character even if the plot doesn’t much take her anywhere.

But the big question is, Eddie Marsan’s teeth: real or fake? If fake, get Happy-Go-Lucky a Makeup nomination, post haste!


Someday it’ll get its own post, but invariably I’m happier with and more interested in the screenwriting nominations than the Best Picture ones.  Granted, that’s partially because there are ten screenwriting slots.  But they always seem to contain at least one movie I think was one of the top five Oscar movies of the year, but didn’t make the best picture cut.  This year is WALL-E, of course, but in the past few years have included Lars and the Real Girl, The Squid and the Whale, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, American Splendor, and (because I’m not afraid to go there) About a Boy.

So I was intrigued when I saw Frozen River pop up with a screenwriting nomination.  By the time I popped the DVD out of the player, I was still intrigued.  Not by the movie, which wasn’t terribly interesting, but by how the movie ended up with a screenwriting nomination.  The script hadn’t won many awards, wasn’t nominated by the WGA, and it was Courtney Hunt’s first screenplay.  Ascribing it to savvy Oscar marketing seems unlikely given the film’s shoestring budget.  And, oh yeah, the For Your Consideration ad doesn’t mention the script or Hunt.

Certain elements of the movie do smack of Oscar bait.  Melissa Leo plays a woman whose gambling addict husband recently left, only days before Christmas.  And who decides to run illegal immigrants across the border to help make ends meet as her part-time job at the dollar store isn’t putting food (other than popcorn) on the table for her two sons.  And Leo’s accomplice is a Native American living a trailer who desperately wants to get her one year old child back.

But the reason for my surprise (and the reason the film may be described as a “small” movie) is the very narrow, linear path of the movie.  Melissa Leo doesn’t have money, wants some, and sees making runs as opportunity to get some.  Anything broader than that is more or less disregarded and setbacks of any real sort are nonexistent.  There’s no discussion (in the dialogue or thematically) of the ethics of illegal immigration.  Not much of a comment of the relationship of the reservation to the rest of the area, or even much of a glance at the rest of the area at all.  There’s no evil character keeping Leo down, no particular obstacle she has to overcome.

(spoilers after the jump) Read the rest of this entry »

February 2009
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