Saturday, 28 June 2008


Last week I went to see Happy-Go-Lucky with my mum. This film seems to divide opinion and I can see why. The lead character, Poppy, played by Sally Hawkins, is so immensely irritating that if she were real I wouldn't want to spend five minutes in her presence. And yet she is utterly believable. Sally Hawkins' acting is excellent and she made my toes curl with her excruciating relentless cheerfulness.

I hate those people who are always telling you to smile and cheer up; who witter on inanely refusing to have serious discussions because they don't have a sensible thought in their brain; who assume that other people don't have a sense of humour because they don't laugh at her banality. Her silly eye rolling and head waggling movements are simply infuriating and I can understand why Scott, the driving instructor (played to perfection by Eddie Marsan) loses his temper with her - she refuses to take anything seriously. I would not want her to be on the road when I'm driving.

Scott tells Poppy (real name Pauline, but that's not nearly annoying enough) that not everything is about her. She genuinely seems to think it is. She is one of those smug self-satisfied types who have taken a gap year to travel to Australia, Vietnam, Bali and Thailand, and now thinks she knows about the world.

I would like to know more about the other characters, all of whom I like more than her. I want to know what happens to the little boy who bullies others because his mum's new boyfriend hits him. I'm intrigued by the Flamenco teacher (Karina Fernandez) and the student who is completely expressive without words (Rebekah Staton). Tim (Samuel Roukin), the social worker could be interesting as could the youngest sister, Suzy (Kate O'Flynn), studying for her exams, and the heavily pregnant middle sister, Helen (Caroline Martin), unhappy with her domestic bliss and hen-pecked husband.

The best friend, Zoe (Alexis Zegerman), is the star of the film for me with her deadpan delivery and smouldering looks. But Scott is right; all we learn about these people is how they relate to Poppy, as if their existence is unimportant outside her circle of radiance. This could be due to the work-shopping manner in which Mike Leigh runs his rehearsals. Many stories are started but none are finished; there is no script. The dialogue is believable because people have repetitive verbal twitches - 'don't they just?' - and they don't actually say anything, but is that really what you want from a drama?

I like Mike Leigh films, and I'm used to them being dark and depressing. I kept waiting for the misery to kick in - when is she going to reveal that she's addicted to Prozac? - but the fact that it didn't, made it even more exhausting. Poppy is a primary school teacher and she dresses in bright primary colours and skank boots. There is nothing wrong with being childish, but surely not all the time? Or maybe that is the secret to happiness - don't live in the real world!

Although I can believe such infuriating people exist, I cannot credit that they would have so many friends. The ever-excellent Sylvestra le Touzel as the headmistress, Heather, seems far too grounded to waste her time with this total airhead. There is a far-fetched but touching scene when Poppy patronisingly talks to a tramp; I can only assume she relates to him because he doesn't say anything sensible either.

I also find it very difficult to believe that two men would fall for this woman. Most I know would run screaming. A quick scan of the IMBd message board revealed the following comment from someone signing themself 'The Piano Dude': “I just couldn't stand the character of Poppy. If British children are really being taught by people like that then no wonder the country's in the sorry state that it's in. I wanted to smack her more than I've ever wanted to smack a fictional character before.”

I think that just about says it all. But, and this is a big but, the acting was fantastic and I haven't stopped thinking about it since. Poppy has got under my skin. Like a particularly nasty case of shingles.

Friday, 27 June 2008


Him indoors reckons that Russian striker Pavlyuchenko looks like smiley bum-shaking actress, Cameron Diaz. Should I be in any way concerned about this? He's usually pretty bad with his doubles but I have to concede, he may have a point here.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

My Newest Favourite Thing: Michael McCormack's oil paintings

Michael McCormack's studio in Island Bay, fabulous pictures await you. McCormack paints beautiful pictures of the rugged Wellington coast with dingies bobbing in the waves.

I frequently run around this coastline and I feel as though I recognise every rock and promontory. I am moved by each pohutukawa, flax and toetoe. I know I am familiar with the red phone box at Karaka Bay.

There are equally excellent pictures of cityscapes with cornershops and cafes. As a visual chronicler of Wellington, McCormack captures the light perfectly and I particularly like the way he depicts the car headlights reflecting in the wet streets after rain. I can almost hear the hiss of the tyres as they slink past.

When we visited, McCormack was experimenting with light and colour. He made some daubs on his canvas, then stepped back to view the effect. I was mesmerised by the blobs and twists of paint on his pallette. I wanted to reach out and touch them. I didn't, but boy did I want to.

His paintings are for sale, at very reasonable prices. If you haven't the money or the space for one of his canvases, he puts out a great calendar and diary each year. He also sells prints on postcards of his work. It's well-worth a visit if you're ever out that way.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Euro 2008: Quarter-finals

If I were Croatia, I would be feeling robbed, gutted, sick as a parrot and a glut of other footballing cliches. They scored in what should have been the last minute of time added on at the end of extra time. The ref decided to play 'Fergie time' - just a few more minutes until the other side bags a goal. It was a shocking decision to play that much more time added on, and one that has cost Croatia a place in the semi-finals.

Happily, I'm not Croatia and I have watched some entertaining football thus far. The Russia v Netherlands game was a classic, full of all sorts of excitement and quite a few spectacular goals. I don't think the fans were expecting that.

Spain v Italy was less thrilling, but the best team won as far as I'm concerned even if it did come down to the dreaded penalty shoot-out. Of course I was pleased to see Ronaldo do his depart-in-tears routine - it couldn't happen to a nicer bloke. And now I've got two days without football. I'll hardly know what to do with myself until the semis.

I suppose I shall have to go back to the usual round of cultural diversions - theatres; films; art galleries; exhibitions... I'd count Euro 2008 among them as sheer entertainment.