Oh, how I loved this movie. Why don’t I just have a boxed set of Mike Leigh films (although this is a much easier film to watch than most of his oeuvre)? For a start, it’s the first film I’ve seen in absolute ages that passes the Bechdel-Wallace1 test over and over and over again. (Not that many films pass the rule even once, still) I also really want to hang out with Sally Hawkins, who totally deserved the many awards she didn’t actually receive.
Poppy Cross is happy-go-lucky. At 30, she lives in Camden: cheeky, playful, frank while funny, and talkative to strangers.
Poppy loves her job, her friends and her freedom. The film follows her over a few weeks in spring, as her bike is stolen, she decides to take driving lessons, and happens across a boyfriend.
Poppy is so exuberant that I can understand how some people might find her irritating, at least to begin with (described by one critic as “a happiness fascist”). Her façade appears simplistic and ditzy, but as this slice of life delves down through the layers we learn that she is far from naive and has a streak of conscientious determination a mile wide. Poppy’s life is full of joy because she chooses to view the world with compassion as well as delight, and she has people in her life who respond avidly to that, even while others view it with envy or suspicion.
The main character conflicts in the film, between Poppy and her dourly belligerent driving instructor Scott, provide an innovative spine for the rest of the story to hang upon as we meet the regular people in Poppy’s surrounds as life goes on between her weekly driving lessons, and contrast especially strongly with the warm and supportive friendship between Poppy and her flatmate Zoe and the uneven but bedrock-reliable bonds with her sisters Suzy and Helen.
There’s so much going on in the relationships in this film that I am going to have to see it again and again – it was on cable TV late, and I put the recorder on because I meant to go to bed, but I couldn’t tear myself away from the screen. Neither could mr tog, which is a real rarity for a late night show. We’ll probably watch it together again this weekend.
Now on to super-satisfying Bechdel-Wallace aspects: Poppy converses within the Rule with the women in her life all the time. When with Zoe, Suzy and Helen, with her boss Heather and colleague Tash, they speak about many things lighthearted and not so, and it is clear that all these women have fully rounded lives in which their relationships with men matter, and are mentioned, but are not the centre of their conversations or goals in life.
These women all have challenges, and it’s so refreshing that they’re not only worrying about the ones that involve men. Suzy the moody student has boyfriend problems, but she’s just as (if note more) likely to be surly about her doctoral thesis. Poppy and Zoe have satisfying and challenging jobs and hobbies (Poppy’s sport of trampolining even sees her needing to visit a physiotherapist). Heather’s daughter is causing her some anxious moments that she diverts herself from with flamenco classes, in a subplot that delivers some of the film’s funniest moments. Tash has aunties who nag her about her whole life, the fact that she’s single and hasn’t provided a grandchild yet is only a small portion of her complaints and humour about those complaints. Helen is pregnant and anxiously micro-managing her house and husband to the point of snappishness, but it’s clear that they all know this control frenzy is an aberration and that she is actually a more rounded person than we see in this moment.
Everybody in the film obviously has a complete life that they are living when they are not interacting with Poppy, they’re not just props in her story. Not even the attractive man she meets through a serious incident at work; he sees all her strengths as well as her charms and asks her out, and their date is a cheerful and playful encounter with the promise of developing into more. Mike Leigh cleverly leaves a lot of strings, including this one, unresolved at the end of the film.
I found it fascinating that some reviews of the movie take Poppy’s attitude to having a boyfriend as evidence of a deep-seated personality flaw, a profound superficiality if you like, based solely on the fact that she is not any more happy having him around than she was when she was single. Wow – a woman not predicating her happiness on having a man interested in her – must be something terribly wrong with her! Newsflash to obtuse people: not dropping the rest of her life in a heap because a boyfriend appears does not equate to indifference about the bloke! They quite obviously fancy each other like mad, did you not watch the same sex scene that I did? Or was the fact that the sex scene was playful and not a deep romantic affair disturbing to you? I found the relationship arc (of which we only see the very beginning, remember) delightfully refreshing.
So, anyway – see this film!
1. Reminder: the
Mo Movie Measure Bechdel-Wallace Rule for feminist moviegoing is as follows:
- The film must have
- at least two named women in it, who
- talk to each other, about
- something other than a man.
Categories: arts & entertainment