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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!

Oscar nominations will be announced on January 22. We’re counting down to the big day by tackling some tough questions and spouting some mad opinions. Today we’re making predictions. Going out on a limb a little, what will and will not happen in the nominations?

Brian: Torino for the Upset

Gran Torino will squeeze in as a Best Picture nominee, kicking out Frost/Nixon. I think Oscar voters will be blinded by the strong box office performances of Eastwood’s take on the Incredible Hulk, and the old fogeys will be regretful if they don’t throw some dap to what could possibly be Eastwood’s last film. Considering the movie’s pure audacity, I can’t even protest the pick that much, even though it was not very good. I like its chances, and like the Arizona Cardinals making a playoff run, I think that a surprise nomination could give it upset special potential over Slumdog in the end game.

John: TDK Loses, HSM3 Wins

I’ll believe Dark Knight getting a Best Picture nod when I see it. It deserves it but the Academy is so good at disappointing me. Despite love from nearly every guild (producers, directors, writers, art directors, editors, sound mixers, cinematographers, costume designers) SAG skipped it for its Ensemble award and the acting branch is by far the largest in the Academy. I know the correlation between SAG Ensemble and Best Picture isn’t perfect, but I’m pessimistic. The Reader seems so much more up the Academy’s alley that I can definitely see it ignoring the comic book film. This is a prediction I’d love to be wrong, but I expect lots of fanboy bitching tomorrow.

After last year’s debacle in the category I expect High School Musical 3: Senior Year to score at least one Original Song nomination. Fortunately rule changes prevent it from nabbing more than two so it can’t match Enchanted‘s three. None of the groups that names Best Song has given the bland musical tunes any love, but if anyone can it’s the Academy.

Jared: Good News Coming for Happy, Winslet, Leo (DiCaprio); Bad for Jolie, Blanchett, Leo (Melissa)

It is hard to make exciting predictions this year, with so many categories seeing so much uniformity across guild awards and the other precursors.  I won’t make up something crazy just for the sake of being bold, but I can see a few slightly unexpected things to happen.  Happy-Go-Lucky will garner three nominations (Actress, Supporting Actor, and Original Screenplay). I wouldn’t necessarily agree with all of them, but I think the film’s unbridled optimism will resonate with voters in this political and economic climate, and since Eddie Marsan is the one counter to that in the whole movie, he stands out too much not to be noticed.  Kate Winslet grabs two noms, and Leonardo DiCaprio comes along for the ride. The former is more likely than the latter, but I think Winslet peaked at the right time, is a name people know and want to vote for, and I think people want to get her an Oscar win.  There are scenarios where Revolutionary Road or The Reader pull down more nominations, but I see them having difficulty cracking the big categories, so support could funnel to DiCaprio.  Leo, Jolie, Blanchett out for Best Actress. This category is an eight woman (well, no, nine, Michelle Williams has a non-zero shot) free-for-all, and really, nothing is absolutely guaranteed.  I think Jolie misses because Changeling didn’t resonate in general any more than A Mighty Heart.  I’m even now second-guessing myself about Blanchett, since the Academy loves her so, but I think she has more of a chance if Benjamin Button broke out a little more at the box office.  And Leo will suffer from being in a movie released too early and being too little of a name.

Adam: Those Expecting Surprises Will be Disappointed

Not sure how much of a long shot it is, but I think Leonardo DiCaprio edges out Pitt and Jenkins for a Best Actor nod.  I also second Jared’s prediction of Happy-Go-Lucky getting more nods than it deserves (which I have no problem ridiculing in the days to come).  I think Dev Patel rides the seemingly-universal love for Slumdog Millionaire into a supporting actor spot.  Honestly though, I really don’t see that many “long shots” in even remote contention.

Happy-Go-Lucky is brilliant in its simplicity.  It details a few weeks in the life of Poppy (Sally Hawkins), who is remarkable for the complete and utter joy she gets out of life.  And that’s the whole story.  The beauty of the film is that Poppy’s joie de vivre never really gets cartoonish (in, say, a Jim Carrey sort of way) or off-putting, and she’s never forced to deal with some horrible tragedy that shatters her worldview.  Instead, Poppy’s everlasting happiness is actually the source of her depth, creating a memorable character.

In this case, it is important to distinguish the character from the film.  Because while Hawkins’s effervescence dominates the movie, it is a mistake to let her define it.  And if Hawkins is like the bubbles in a glass of seltzer, the movie is that seltzer: refreshing, to be sure, but unlikely to be remembered after a day or so.  Maybe that’ll be the last extended metaphor for awhile.

The film’s genre may be best defined as “family-friendly, but not meant for kids”; it is hard to imagine any adult being offended by Happy-Go-Lucky.  It was bold to make a movie with virtually no conflict (save for perhaps two exceptions) and I think it is a testament to writer/director Mike Leigh and Sally Hawkins that the movie succeeds as well as it does.  That said, the movie is far from great.  The lack of conflict leads to lack of resolution, leaving the movie feeling somewhat incomplete.  While many comedies overcome a weakish plot by being consistently funny, Happy-Go-Lucky too often seems to get bogged down preparing to make some sort of bold statement it never gets around to making.  The scene by the train tracks, for example.  Or the subplot starting with Poppy’s student who likes to pick fights.  Perhaps most telling is that it is a struggle to remember which, exactly, were the funny parts, but I can distinctly remember the parts which seems slow or off-kilter.

I’d certainly recommend Happy-Go-Lucky, it is probably a good movie to see when trying to find something to pacify everyone in a group.  But there have been plenty of movies this year I more enjoyed.  I’ve seen a little buzz around an original screenplay nomination, and while I wouldn’t be upset, I don’t think the film is deserving, so I’d be a little disappointed.

I’m starting to see a little bit of support for Eddie Marsan getting a supporting actor nod.  He’s actually quite good in the movie, being the only one who gives Hawkins a run for her money.  His driving instructor was also pretty much the only character in the movie to exhibit any sort of range of emotions, which probably props up his chances some.  I liked him, but if his character were in a different movie, I don’t think he’d be getting as much notice.  Again, I’m not sure I’d start advocating an Oscar revolution if he gets a nomination, but I’d be very surprised if he’s one of my top five by the end of the year.

Finally, there’s Sally Hawkins.  Who, right now, is looking like she’ll get squeezed out of a relatively strong actress race.  It is kind of hard to compare her here, because her character is intentionally one note.  I have to give her credit, Hawkins remains funny throughout the entire film, without ever really veering over the top, and her timing is pretty fantastic.  She makes the film, and in the hands of some other actresses, I think the movie would have been much less enjoyable.  I haven’t seen enough of the contenders yet to make any sort of statement here, but I look forward to placing her in context.

May 2017
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