Portrayals of the Good

Interesting review of Mike Leigh’s new film Another Year, about a rock solid couple who stand at the center of a large group of people who need their love and support. I haven’t seen the film yet, and I’m not sure I will. I was more captivated by the larger argument being made about Hollywood and how it portrays people. Brett McCracken, the blogger, points out an interesting facet of modern film making: almost all of it involves a deep look at broken people. McCracken argues that

“We live in a time when ‘authenticity’ is equated with those things or those people who are forthright in their brokenness and messiness, while stable, happy people are sometimes looked upon with skepticism, as if their lack of apparent problems makes them phony or untrustworthy. Our jadedness leads us to a sort of self-reinforcing stasis of raw brokenness, because this is what we believe. This is what we know. But what we really need are models of goodness & virtue in our lives… figures of hope who can motivate us out of the cycle of dreary cynicism.”

Admittedly, McCracken is pointedly writing a movie review from a Christian perspective. (Odd to have to acknowledge, perhaps, but it’s a rarity I think to find someone who can actually review the film in question, the larger zeitgeist of the film industry, and discuss ethics.) He’s thinking here both about this film and about Leigh’s last work, Happy-Go-Lucky. But he also mentions that Hollywood tends to laud the broken character while overlooking the stable one: see apparently Christian Bale vs. Mark Wahlberg’s work in The Fighter. Bale pointedly acknowledged Wahlberg’s good character as the harder task in his Golden Globe acceptance speech. I think, in a certain sense, McCracken is right. I avoid most Oscar bait films these days because I find them depressing without being uplifting.I don’t need film to make me “feel better,” but I don’t need it to dwell on the maudlin either. I actually find a lot of those kinds of films to be oddly confessional, in both the Evangelical and the Foucauldian sense. The characters wear their damages openly, confessing their sins over and over without the promise of forgiveness. Yet, society compels the constant confession, almost revealing in the supposed authenticity of putting everything out there. I mistrust statements about what’s supposedly “authentic” to begin with. It implies other ways of living are somehow inauthentic or fake.

I enjoyed Happy-Go-Lucky because Poppy, the character at the center of the film, refuses to be told she was broken or that her view of the world was wrong just because it wasn’t everyone else’s perspective. She refuses to see her quirks and eccentricities as somehow failures. Sally Hawkins gives weight to Poppy’s dippy insouciance. She’s not blindly moving through her world; instead, she prefers to see it differently than everyone else.

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