Jun 22, 2012

I think Manohla Dargis was the first

To suggest the idea of the brill Mike Leigh double feature of Naked and Happy-Go-Lucky.  They are opposite sides of the same coin, and also reflect a male (Naked:  bleak, violent, cynical, cerebral, fucked-up outlook) vs the female (Happy-Go-Lucky:  upbeat, optimistic, nurturing, empathetic, right brain outlook.)  I do not think Leigh wanted to make an "answer" film, per se, to Naked.  Leigh is one of the finest artists in cinema today and does not cater, ever, to public demand of that sort.  He is crazy dedicated to telling his stories, whatever they may be, exactly and perfectly in the manner he wants the story told.

Naked is a difficult film, for sure, plus it is long.  But I was so caught up in its Odyssean like sweep that I saw it at least four or five times in the theater when it was released, most of the time by myself.  (Hey, kids, I saw it at the old art-house in downtown Berkeley right by the campus. The theater does not exist anymore.) It is the performances in this film, notably David Thewlis, who won best actor at Cannes that year, that hook you in to Naked.  Thewlis delivers an absolutely stunning wracked version of Johnny that probably left him a husk of his normal self and messed him up personally for a short while.  But then we also get Lesley Sharp, Ewan Bremner, Katrin Cartlidge (RIP, sister.  Such a talent, and she died so young), Claire Skinner, Peter Wight, Gina McKee, etc, ... all of them expertly creating the universe that Thatcher's No Culture version of Britain will ultimately become.  Of course, the "sexy" part of Naked is Johnny's numerous monologues on the state of the universe, which are alternately despairing and hilarious.  There is certainly nothing sexy about the actual sex in the film, of which there is a fair amount.  That is brutal and joyless every single time.  Probably because of that, Naked is a Bridge Too Far for Renee.  She does not like Naked, and I do not think she has seen the film all the way through.

But, Happy-Go-Lucky, on the other hand, we saw in the theater together, and we own on dvd, and is one of our all-time favorite films.  "Enraha!" was/is an absolute secret language inside joke with us, still.  The "Johnny" character in Happy-Go-Lucky this time is, if not vanquished, at least abated, and done so with a firm yet empathetic touch of Poppy's hand.  Poppy is a single woman in her thirties who lives quite happily with her other single flatmate, both of them Primary School teachers.  Poppy, played by the striking lovely Sally Hawkins, is one of my ultimate heroes of cinema.  Whenever life is crushing me, and the dark cynical side of me bubbles towards the surface, I literally try to imagine how Poppy would handle the situation.  Ms Hawkins may never give a performance this good again in a motion picture.  It is her Party Piece, her Calling Card, just as David Thewlis has never done anything nearly as good as Johnny in Naked, either.  The entire community of Happy-Go-Lucky inhabit the opposite universe as those of Naked.  They are a community that is always looking to work together, without passing judgement, to make the world a better place. Plus, the sex scene in Happy-Go-Lucky is sweet, touching, playful and lovely.  It is a profound, joyful, exquisite work of cinema art that Renee and I (and many others) will always treasure.

By the way, one of my two favorite DPs shot both of these films, in completely different styles and palettes, Dick Pope.  Stellar work.

So, I would watch Naked first, I think.  End on a high note, right?

(Have fun, Justin.)

And, please please please, could we finally get a US dvd/blu-ray release of Mike Leigh's Life Is Sweet, already? Jeez, ...

All my love,

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