British director Ken Loach — proudly, radically political in films as intimate as Ladybird Ladybird and as large-format historical as Land and Freedom — is interested in the socioeconomic influences on one man’s alcoholism in My Name Is Joe. But this appealing melodrama has less to do with agitprop than it does with old-fashioned storytelling about attractive working-class blokes — something along the lines of the British kitchen-sink soap Eastenders.
And few proles are more attractive than Scottish actor Peter Mullan, who plays recovering alcoholic Joe Kavanagh (and who won the Best Actor prize last year at Cannes for his rigorous, passionate performance). Joe’s an out-of-work housepainter in Glasgow, for whom the AA motto ”One day at a time” has truly been a lifesaver; he’s a thoughtful, hopeful man now, but when he drank, Joe was a destructive monster. He coaches the local football team, a sorry lot of pugnacious losers (Joe takes the losingest lad of all under his wing). His life is, one day at a time, in balance; it’s the emotions roiled by a love affair with a no-nonsense community health worker (Louise Goodall) that threaten Joe’s hard-won sobriety.
For all the crises Joe must navigate constantly to keep things simple — crises made even rougher by limited prospects in on-the-dole Glasgow — it’s Loach’s ability to keep My Name Is Joe simple and unpreachy that gives the work its edge. (It’s the English subtitles supplied for clotted Scottish accents that give the film its comprehensibility.) Even while we root for Joe to be loved, he’s no saint. And that’s a radical blessing. B+