There’s a really good story hidden within the new Scottish import, MY NAME IS JOE, a movie by the critically acclaimed Marxist director, Ken Loach. Set in a poor district of Glasgow, Scotland, it is a story about an alcoholic and AA member who gets involved with a government health inspector. The movie focuses on this charming and humorous romance for much of its running time, but then spoils it by including a melodramatic, sometimes overacted plot about drug dealers.
Cannes Film Festival winner Peter Mullin plays Joe Kavanaugh, an easy-going man in his mid to late thirties who coaches one of the local amateur soccer teams. The movie opens with Joe attending one of his AA meetings, where he announces to the other alcoholics in the meeting, “My name is Joe and I’m an alcoholic.” He briefly tells his story, including his original reluctance to say these words. He then says he prays to God about his condition and hopes “to Christ” that he can stay sober. This early scene sets the stage for what follows. Will Joe be able to stay sober is an important question in the movie.
Immediately after the opening scene, the movie shows Joe with his soccer team of younger men. It is full of coarse male language, with a Scottish accent. When Joe drops off one of the soccer players, Liam, at Liam’s apartment, he meets the government health inspector who comes to Liam’s home to treat Liam and his wife, Sabine’s, child. Joe develops an immediate liking for the health inspector, Sarah, who’s about his same age. In another scene shortly thereafter, he agrees to wall-paper her house, even though by doing so, the government docks his regular welfare check. Why this able-bodied man cannot go looking for regular work is not explained in this movie.
Eventually, Joe tells Sarah about his alcoholism. He and Sarah develop a cozy romantic relationship that soon includes conjugal visits. Disrupting this happy scene is Liam’s wife, Sabine, a former junkie who reverts to her former lifestyle. When she owes a lot of money to the local drug dealers, Joe tries to help his friend Liam by doing a couple of delivery jobs for the dealers. Sarah finds out about this and breaks off her relationship. Devastated, Joe tries to back out of his deal, but his efforts lead to violence and a tragedy.
Although it is much less politically didactic than Loach’s last movie, CARLA’S SONG, MY NAME IS JOE is similar in that it takes a budding romance between two people and embroils them in a melodramatic adventure plot. This time, however, the shift is really intrusive and even more unbelievable, partly because of a couple silly confrontation scenes. Despite this, it was good to see one scene where Joe, faced with a harrowing situation, desperately prays, “Sweet Jesus, give me strength,” then repeats the word Jesus 8 more times. Regrettably, Joe’s prayer does not seem to be answered.
MY NAME IS JOE is also laced throughout its length with lots of strong foul language, dialogue which is spoken often by Joe and the other men but much less by Sarah and the other women in the story. MOVIEGUIDE counted nearly 300 obscenities and 31 mostly strong profanities. The movie also includes a bedroom scene with upper male and upper female nudity, some violence, a suicide, and a scene where Sabine uses a needle to take heroin. Although Joe eventually makes some positive moral choices in the movie, this is not enough to overcome the movie’s other moral deficiencies.
Mild moral worldview with some objectionable material in it plus some Christian elements (see below); 296 obscenities, mostly the "f" word & 31 mostly strong profanities; moderate violence including drug dealers rough up young man, older man fights drug dealers in pub & smashes one one of their cars with stick, woman creates disturbance in health clinic, & suicide; implied fornication with one bedroom scene, including couple shown embracing while naked from waist up; upper male nudity & brief upper female nudity; alcohol use & drunkenness in one scene when alcoholic goes back to drinking briefly; smoking, people get involved with drug dealers & woman uses heroin; brief mention of Jesus Christ & praying to God in opening scene at Alcoholics Anonymous meeting & man asks "Sweet Jesus" to give him strength in a harrowing situation; and, poor people use socialist system in Glasgow, Scotland, including remaining on the public dole when they could try to get a job.