Blimey, it's all going off in the comments box for Impostume's (great) demolition job on Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky, it's like a return to the glory days of K-punks comments box, hard clashing egos armed to the teeth with knowledge. Having seen the supremely irritating trailer for Happy-Go-Luck last week (only just coming out here in America) I was in total concurrence with Carl's view and all set to give Leigh's latest a wide berth, but reading the eloquent counter-arguments now feel obliged to check it out and make up my own mind. Plus I blow hot and cold with Leigh. Not sure I'd ever describe myself as a fan, but he's done some movies I admire: Career Girls, while modest in ambition and definitely a minor work, is very good on female friendship; Topsy Turvy deals with the craft and collegiality of collective artistic endeavour in a way I've not seen another movie attempt, and actually managed to get me slightly interested in Gilbert & Sullivan, something I could never have imagined; I can't help thinking that some people would feel more comfortable loving Life Is Sweet if it wasn't called Life Is Sweet (I don't think that that is the message of the film, anyway--not in such a simplistic, heartwarming way, at least). (Naked, as it happens, is not one of my favourites--too much of a self-consciously Major Work--although sections of it are brilliant, and the ending is a stunning twist of the knife). It's true Alison Steadman has been playing the same character for decades (viz, Gavin and Stacy which has just started here in the USA) and there's a tendency with Leigh, character-wise, to go for grotesques. But there's also people who seem totally recognisable, real English types that you've met along the way of your life.
Re. Carl's most interesting point, about how the women in Leigh's films are always grounded and sensible and stolidly supportive, how they're "stoical and conservative, making do and getting by," whereas the men are "tortured" by ideals and obsessions. That's a very perceptive point, but then again, thinking about the men and women I've known in my life, by and large, the women do seem more grounded. Oh, I can think of particular women who are total cranks or went off on strange life-paths, who refused to compromise their ideals even though it's made life unnecessarily difficult for themselves. But on the whole that does seems to be male territory. Surveying the whole gamut of men and women and the relationships between them that I've witnessed, from the very close at home out to people I'm only passingly acquainted with.... what Leigh is depicting just seems empirically accurate. Examples spring to mind of situations where the whole thing is basically held together by the woman; at the extreme there's a co-dependency/enabling syndrome in terms of the woman propping up the man's self-delusions. Doubtless there are examples of the roles being reversed--an artistically or ideologically driven-to-the-point-of-delirium woman, a highly-strung female genius with no life skills, with the man taking up the supportive/stabilising role. But they are vastly outnumbered by the other set-up, so common as to be a cliche.