I just saw Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky. Although I’ve known of him for a while, I have never seen one of his movies before. Perhaps because when I heard of him as an early teenager, I knew his movies were more adult suited, or at least had a maturity I just didn’t care for at the time. Well, now I am an adult. I enjoyed it and had a few thoughts:

– I like the way Mike Leigh tells a story. I like how he focuses on interactions between interesting characters. I like how he focuses on the character development and lets you peek into these peoples’ lives. The two scenes in the film that really struck me as an intimacy into the inner workings of these characters were the love making scene with the social worker and the scene where the driving instructor spews on about his paranoid worldview.

  • In the first, we never actually see the act, yet it still is a sexy scene. We see how these two lovers are just so playful with each other, first through flirtatious wit, and then through the early stages of disrobing and some heavy kissing. The scene ends there, but we’ve already seen a tenderness and fearlessness between the two characters that is much more powerful, and much sexier than any stylized sex scene could make you feel. While flirting, Leigh gets in close on the eyes and shows their gazes held on each other. While kissing, we see Poppy playfully engage her suitor to come down to her level because he is too tall. It’s an intimate moment that we spy on from a safe distance, and while watching it, we see how Poppy is spritely and fun in the bedroom without having to resort to outright images of sex.
  • The second scene that powerfully struck me was when the driving instructor shows a little more of his dark side. Although his full on blow up occurs later in the film, this one prepares you for that later one and also delves into a very sad character. I enjoyed this story craft of doing both at the same time. Because the film takes Poppy’s perspective, we see the explosion here not as something to be feared but as something which is flawed, but not without humanity. And although this was not explicit in the film, I really felt a connection between who the driving instructor is today and how the troubled boy in the school that Poppy teaches at feels. I think perhaps Poppy feels the same way, and that connection comes for me when she asks is the driving instructor was an only child. We know the boy is an only child since he draws a house with himself, his mother, and his mother’s abusive boyfriend. No siblings. When she asks, the driving instructor doesn’t answer. As an only child myself, I know that question can often go unanswered when the answer is “yes,” but you don’t like being asked the question due to the negative assumptions about being an only child buried in the tone of the asking.

– I found it interesting that the US marketing campaign really billed this film as a comedy. While it certainly had funny moments, I would still categorize this as a drama. I think US film audiences confuse tragedy with drama, and so if it’s not a funny movie, it must be an emotionally difficult movie. Thus, marketing departments of Production Companies have to present something that is a bit of two worlds as the more popular one (at least in ticket sales). To me, this is an over simplification. Dramas aren’t always tragic, and can even have funny moments, just as life does. Marketers are creating their own self-fulfilling prophecy/feedback loop. “People are afraid of dramas, so lets call this feel good drama a comedy so that the term drama gets even more associated with tragedy.”

Yeah, not a good plan. I noticed it with this film and also the great little film Sunshine Cleaning. In the trailers for both films, they added all of the humorous moments from the film, presented a light hearted comedy, attached the trailers to over the top silly comedies (I saw Sunshine Cleaning‘s trailer before I Love You, Man) and called it a day. But these films are not that simple, and I think the marketing plan does them a disservice. When word of mouth comes out about these films, the people expecting a barrel of laughs are disappointed and say as much.

Or maybe I’m wrong, and Aristotle is right: everything with a happy ending is a comedy, and anything with a down ending is a tragedy. Only now we call tragedy “drama.”