What drives people to drink? Beyond social etiquette and celebration, there is a darker side to alcohol that many of us are all too familiar with. Not through experiencing it, but knowing of it, identifying it, and seeking help for it. University is a great place to kindle such an intimate relationship with booze, but My Name is Joe is far beyond the halls of residence where bottles and beers are commonplace. As the opening narration tells us, Joe (Peter Mullan) had been dragged along to an AA meeting, and five years later is living a sober life. These are, presumably, good people. Director Ken Loach has made it his aim to present good people stuck in harsh realities. He does so well, and the realism present throughout My Name is Joe is unrelenting and touching.
One could definitely say Loach approaches real-life with a miserable outlook. I disagree. He is hopeful of the future for these characters. His films are steeped in realism, so of course, there is a degree of misery to them. It would be flowering up a hard-hitting narrative to end on a happy note or start with a gradual fall from grace. Some people will live and die in this state of perpetual misery, and with nobody to blame for it. They are not at fault, nor are their surroundings or the people that care for them. It is a simple fact of life, these things happen. Loach wishes to identify that thought process, and it is where his work comes to a head with many detractors.
His films are inherently political, to some degree. It is hard not to portray a working-class form of life without spitting on the government that put them there in the first place. Is that a problem? Not at all, especially when My Name is Joe uses it as a backdrop for its romance like so many others before it. The only difference is Loach knows how to do both, where many creatives looking to blur the harsh streets of Glasgow or other counterparts with shaky foundations of love can only bring genuine feeling to one or the other. Here, Joe finds himself at odds, initially, with Sarah (Louise Goodall), a health worker. They are on opposing sides from the minute they meet, but love sparks in the sincerest and strangest of places. While one works hard and grafts day in and day out, scheming away to make ends meet, the other is a stooge for some corporate wing of the government that is meant to care for the working man.
Tales such as this are frequent within the world of British realism. My Name is Joe is just The Full Monty but without the flair of a fancy ensemble or the backing of big names. Loach doesn’t need either. Grasping the escapism alcoholics take through football and friendship, My Name is Joe is a thoroughly endearing piece that should lay to rest the idea that Loach gets off on miserable situations that he can pick apart for political prestige. He does not, has not, and probably will not. He is merely taking up moments that can and do happen to people across the country, and he does it well. People can feel insignificant. People can feel like they’re not doing enough for their loved ones or for themselves. How Loach presents that throughout My Name is Joe is touching, marvellous, and blends the notes of happiness that come from romance with the realities of alcoholism and the dangers of tough estate living.