Review: I, Daniel Blake

Source: Wikipedia.
Source: Wikipedia.

 

Setting out to see this film, I expected myself to be affected. Quite a deal of hype was in the broadsheet reviews for this film, and I liked the sound of the premise. Any film which sets out to highlight a lesser-focused on part of society has a thumbs up from me just for the intention.

 If you don’t know the premise, the trailer tells you all you need to know. Probably better than I can say it, anyway. Immediately I was drawn to the message of the film: focusing on a ‘plucky underdog’ (or just an ordinary bloke having a pretty bad time of things) and pointing out the flaws in our admittedly s*** social institutions is something that, while hardly uplifting, is necessary to remind us all that things don’t have to be this way. Of course, that reminder lasts the duration of maybe a day and then your Born Again charity-giving lifestyle is replaced by the normal pattern of spending more than you want to on things you don’t really need. Yay.

The film isn’t just a pure polemic against ‘the system’, though. The characters really are at the heart of this film, and even if you don’t care much for the message, or agree with the ‘rules are rules’ attitude of the Jobcentre employees, then you will no doubt care about the four main characters. “Four?” I hear you ask over there. I thought it was called ‘I, Daniel Blake’, not ‘We, Daniel Blake’?” Well the other three are a single mum, Katie, and her two young kids, Dylan and Daisy, all hailing from London, but having to relocate to Newcastle.

The bond which forms between Daniel and this family is something which Ken Loach specialises in: showing us the dynamic of a family within the household, and the simple, day-to-day interactions between people who care for each other which can make such a huge impression when viewed from the outside. Even if there aren’t exactly similar situations which crop up, there is usually enough in the interactions that people will recognise. A family is typically a family: not a ‘film family’, where the interactions are exaggeratedly dysfunctional, but a family with troubles which gets by, and has a fair few painful moments mixed in with some very loving ones. No wonder it had me on the verge of tears multiple times.

*

It’s often the more familiar moments which hit hardest. There are some pretty bleak moments in a film like this, but they aren’t necessarily the ones that move you the most as a viewer. For me, it’s seeing things like a mother crying on the stairs, insisting that she’s fine to her young child who she doesn’t want to upset. You don’t have to be on the bread line to have been involved in a moment like that. And it hurts because you see the context you couldn’t see as a child. You see why the mother is crying, you see why she lies about being alright, you understand fully the very tight hug she gives her child and her saying ‘I love you’ and needing you to say ‘I love you’ back, it being the most important thing in the world to her. That’s one of the great things about film: it can offer a context and a fuller picture whereas in real life you can only and will ever see one small piece of the picture – your own.

There are a few laughs in this film as well. Mostly it’s provided by the title character and the typical gallows humour you’d associate with a Northerner (I am a Northerner so I’m allowed to say that). Of course those laughs are mostly in the first half of the film, and help you to grow to like Daniel Blake. I must say there’s pretty much nothing dislikeable about him in the film, and there doesn’t need to be. There are genuinely nice people out there, it can be refreshing not to have to see a dark side in everyone (he may make a mildly racist joke at one point come to think of it, but I deemed it to be ok at the time).

So, basically, go and see this film if you want to feel moved. If you want to see it because you hate ‘the system’ however, expect to come away from this film the same as you went in – only more so.

 

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Ben McElroy