My Name Is Joe

on January 22, 1999 by Lael Loewenstein
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   A sensitive, intimate portrait of a recovering alcoholic set amid Scotland's working class, "My Name is Joe" explores some of the same themes Ken Loach probed in "Carla's Song." Though that film was more overtly political (and still has not received U.S. distribution, presumably for its scathing criticism of American foreign policy), Loach's new work also deals with down-on-their-luck Glaswegians and their struggle to make sense of their lives.
   Working-class Joe Kavanagh (Peter Mullan, who deservedly won the best actor prize at Cannes) is an unemployed recovering alcoholic who spends afternoons coaching soccer with his mates Liam (David McKay) and Shanks (Gary Lewis), and evenings at AA meetings. Full of vitality but long unattached, Joe is drawn to Sarah (Louise Goodall), a social worker, but hesitates to ask her out. Because Loach takes some time developing the sequence of events that bring them together, when they finally do connect, it feels authentic. Both in their late 30s, Joe and Sarah find something neither knew they were searching for, and Sarah, trained through her work to be open-minded, proves remarkably understanding when Joe admits to her his violent, alcoholic past. These tender and funny scenes are among the best in the film and some of Loach's best work to date. In the second half, the story darkens considerably and the picture loses some focus: Joe reluctantly agrees to do one last job for a local crime boss in order to help get Liam out of trouble, but conceals it from Sarah.
   When she discovers the lie, she cuts him off altogether. Losing Sarah threatens to ruin him. Finding that he cannot extricate himself from the deal, Joe flies into a desperate rage and falls off the wagon. The film ends ambivalently, on a tragic but hopeful note.
   In the lead roles, Mullan and Goodall are exceptional, bringing great warmth and compassion to their good-hearted but flawed and very human characters.
   American audiences may struggle to understand writer Paul Laverty's dialogue, however, as the actors' thick Scottish dialect proves a real challenge for unaccustomed ears, but those who make the effort will find "My Name is Joe" an affecting and intimate experience.    Starring Peter Mullan, Louise Goodall and David McKay. Written by Paul Laverty. Directed by Ken Loach. Produced by Rebecca O'Brien. A Stratosphere release. Drama. Running time: 105 min.
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