Attention all independent cinemas: here’s a ready-made double-feature. Two films from British auteur Mike Leigh joined to form the portmanteau mirror image “Happy-Go-Naked”. While admitting patrons into the screening room, pass out the following program notes (with or without the complementary image above):
There is a wormhole of symmetry between the underbellies of Naked and Happy Go Lucky. As evidence we point to the swollen, purple pockets of film containing Johnny/Poppy and Louise/Scott. Is there any real difference between viewing the world as essentially good or essentially evil? Both perspectives take much courage and many liberties, as well as enabling the seer to assume a lofty, predatory station. Johnny preys on the weak; Poppy on the cynical. Johnny beats, he berates, he maniacally pontificates – Leigh and Thewlis might have imagined him as a gritty, realistic diatribe against Thatcher but in the 21st century he seems more like a hypereal antidote to the conservative narrative. Poppy beams, she prances, she plays the pedagogue quite well – but does she acknowledge an existence beyond the one that her construction-paper-arts-and-crafts pupils create? These are two films about solipsist teachers – teachers of men, of children, of drivers – who are too overwhelmed with the world around them to act normal. Johnny’s festering mind rejects the love of Louise just as Poppy’s doughy compassion pushes away Scott’s fevered paralysis, only to embrace a prÃªt-a-port romance. These movies are the opposite wings of the same swan-diving, spontaneously-combusting butterfly – and beware the larvae. Mike Leigh is a social observer, yes, but he’s also a dramatist, and a shrewd one.