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“My name is Joe and I’m an Alcoholic”. That says it all. A sensitive, honest, working class film about real people and addiction. Joe is an unemployed alcoholic with a shady past. He’s struggling to get his life back together, and very determined to put his hard drinking past behind him. A man with a great sense of humor, not hesitating to put himself at risk to help his mates. In the neighbourhood of Ruchill, in Glasgow, Joe is coaching a soccer team that he handles like a father fusses over kids. One of his players is Liam (David McKay), a recovering junkie in debt to the drug-dealing neighbourhood thug McGowan (David Hayman).
Joe helps other addicts and alcoholics. He collects his dole, then finds himself falling in love with a health counsellor Sarah (Louise Goodall). He gives her his phone number, offering to do her wallpaper for some extra money, and is soon flirting with her and then going out on a date with her. They get along greatly and quickly, because they’ve both, in their own way, been beat down and aren’t expecting much, and are soon carrying on a relationship that makes both of them extremely happy. These are the best elements of the film because in one scene she locks herself out of her house and has to stay at his house for the night. There is a natural comedy and they feel at ease with each other. He hesitates to ask her out again. Because director Ken Loach takes some time developing the sequence of events that bring them together, when they finally do connect, it feels authentic. Accepting the risks to his relationship with Sarah, and their future together, Joe goes to the aid of Liam by agreeing to do work for McGowan, but conceals it from Sarah. And when the romance slowly becomes severed because of his involvement with McGowan, we feel that what’s happening as a result is real, even if what has actually happened to cause the complication seems a bit fake. Sarah discovers the lie and cuts him off altogether. Losing her threatens to ruin him. Finding that he cannot extricate himself from the deal, Joe flies into a desperate rage and falls off the wagon.
Loach has shot the film using dark, pale tones. This is not a depressing movie, it’s filled with life and the cinematography only gives it a deeper feeling of naturalism. In the lead roles, Mullan and Goodall are exceptional, bringing great warmth and compassion to their good-hearted but flawed, and very human, characters. This film has power, humour and tenderness in this portrait of blue-collar life, along with glimmers of hope, not to mention a vitality and emotional freshness that makes it different in aim and impact. “My Name is Joe” is an affecting and intimate experience.